University ousts underwear art

Student told to remove artwork from donor event after it was deemed offensive

Woodward pictured with the artwork he was told to remove from the Grant Hall Society’s donor event.
Woodward pictured with the artwork he was told to remove from the Grant Hall Society’s donor event.

The University has sparked controversy after it banned a student’s artwork at a high-profile donor event.

On May 29, David Woodward, BFA ’13, was invited to display his artwork at a donor event in Goodes Hall, but was later told to take down his display after some organizers deemed it too “inappropriate.”

The event was held for the Grant Hall Society, which is comprised of donors who have contributed $1,000 or more to the University within the past year. At least 50 people were in attendance at the event.

Woodward’s piece, which is entitled All I Am is What I’ve Felt, consists of 10 pairs of men’s underwear pinned onto a white board. On the front of each pair is an embroidered image or phrase.

One pair says ‘You Think. I Love’ over top a firing hand-gun, and another illustrates an overturned canoe and the words ‘I can’t make you.’

Woodward and one other BFA student were at the event to display their art. The other student, who Woodward described as a landscape artist, declined to speak with the Journal. Woodward said that none of the organizers had expressed any concern with the nature of his work beforehand.

He said he also sent his webpage, which displays his art, to the organizers before the event to ensure that they were aware of the content.

He said he was told to take down his artwork twenty minutes before the event had begun.

“Twelve to fifteen organizers were there, and when I turned around after setting it up everyone was looking very uncomfortable,” he said. “There was a lot of nail biting and looking up at the ceiling. I understood then that they weren’t going to be into this.”

The organizers told Woodward that they had “serious concerns” about his artwork, and that it was “inappropriate.”

“They told me that they wanted work that was going to be inviting — something nice to look at for a nice background. They said the work needed to be taken down and I needed to leave by extension.”

Woodward said that he’d presented this piece before, and some had found it “weird” whereas others had a very “positive” and “emotional” response to the artwork.

“I was expecting a variety of reactions," he said. "I wasn’t expecting to be asked to take it down.”

Woodward explained what concepts this specific piece embodies.

“It’s an acknowledgement that I am fundamentally ruled by my emotions and how I feel in the moment.” He added the images and words embroidered on the underwear come from personal experiences.

“The work stems from experiences which were grounded in ideals and subsequent fallacies of romantic attachment … experiences which left lots of questions and few answers, and at best revealed themselves to be teachers,” he said.

Woodward said that he was pleased with his choice of artwork to display.

“It is a good representation of my artistic practice, and it is work that I felt really happy with,” he said.

After the event, Woodward said he emailed Lisa Menard, the event’s organizer, to express his disappointment and anger with what happened.

Menard did not respond to multiple interview requests from the Journal.

Woodward said that Menard then contacted Tom Harris, vice-principal of advancement, who deals with alumni relations and fundraising.

Harris apologized to Woodward soon after the incident occurred.

In an e-mail to the Journal, Harris said the decision made by the organizers was wrong.

“I have engaged the Advancement staff in a discussion of why our decision was wrong,” he said. “Jan Allen, acting director of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, has also offered to help coach our staff so that we may build a sound approach for showcasing student artwork in the future.”

Woodward said that Harris has invited him to engage in talks with Advancement in order to ensure that this does not happen again.

He said that he was satisfied with Harris’ apology and his efforts to remedy the situation.

Principal Woolf also apologized to Woodward during the Bachelor of Fine Arts convocation ceremony in June.

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