Sexual art is inappropriate in the workplace

Sir: Contrary to Marianne Macdonald's article, "PC activists confront naked truth" (8 February), about my views on the location of Larry Wakefield's paintings at Southampton University, I do not believe that "nudes have no place in a public space". My view is that the nudes which were hanging until this week in the Faculty of Social Sciences conference room were inappropriate to that particular space. I agree with Larry Wakefield that the nudes in question are neither "obscene" nor "pornographic", and I have never said that they are. However, their subject matter is sexual, and it is on this ground that they were inappropriate in the context in which they were exhibited, to my way of thinking. Anybody who doubts the essentially sexual nature of the nude as a subject could usefully consult John Berger's Ways of Seeing or Edward Lucie-Smith's Sexuality in Western Art.

So far as I am concerned, artists should have complete freedom of expression. If they wish to paint nudes, they are and should be free to do so. There are plenty of places - both public and private - where the display of nudes is entirely acceptable: in art galleries, in people's homes and in any context where the celebration of human sexuality is appropriate. However, the workplace is not such a context. Why not? As I see it, the depiction in the workplace of women in their private roles as sexual beings is inappropriate because it encourages a perception of women as primarily sexual beings, thus undermining their dignity in the workplace and their professional status. In the process, this helps to create an environment in which insensitive and unprofessional attitudes and behaviour towards women are more likely to occur.

Then there is the institutional aspect.The decision to remove the conference room paintings was taken by a majority vote of my faculty colleagues. There are probably as many reasons for voting to remove the paintings as there are voters - my guess is that many of my colleagues will have voted against the paintings simply because they did not like them, rather than because of their subject matter.

This, and not a phoney row about political correctness, is the true issue at stake: shouldn't people be consulted about and shouldn't they have a say in deciding what images are displayed in their workplace? Probably through administrative inertia, we were not consulted about whether the nudes should be hung in the conference room (nor, previously, in the foyer) in the first place.

Now that consultation has taken place, the consensus is that they should go. PC? Seems like democracy to me.

Yours sincerely,

Mire N Bhrolchin,

Senior Lecturer in Population Studies

Department of Social Statistics

University of Southampton


10 February