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Critics say AIDS exhibit was censored

Madison’s art community, HIV/AIDS activists and at least one national group are accusing The Overture Center for the Arts of censorship for removing a photo from an exhibit featuring the work of HIV-positive amateur photographers.

The photo, titled “Stripped,” was one of more than 40 that were originally displayed in the “Living with HIV/AIDS: Perspective Through The Lens” exhibit in the center’s Playhouse Gallery. UWHealth, Becker Law Office, the Wisconsin HIV/AIDS Program and The Overture Center sponsored the exhibit to commemorate World AIDS Day 2010.

“Stripped” shows a nude male holding a handful of medicine bottles over his genitals and blocking them from view. Overture Center officials removed “Stripped” from the exhibit just before the Nov. 12 opening in a move they said was necessary to protect children from negative psychological associations between body parts and medicine bottles, according to spokesman Rob Chappell.

The photo was one of three in the exhibit by a photographer identified by the name “Oren” in local news reports.

“Staff agonized over the decision, but it came down to the placement of the photo right next to a children’s area, where 1,500 little kids pass by every Saturday,” Chappell said. “That said, there could have been better coordination and communication between all parties involved in the planning and placement (of the photo) in the exhibit.”

Chappell described the photo, which is still in the online edition of the exhibition, as “a very powerful image.”

Since the story of the removal was originally reported in the Madison press Dec. 5, it was picked up by CNN and gained global exposure. posted an online petition protesting the action, resulting in more than 150 e-mails being sent to the Overture Center.

The exhibit’s organizer, Heidi Nass of UW Health HIV/AIDS Comprehensive Care Program, did not return WiG’s call by deadline.

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