Student painting banned from exhibit at local high school

The painting “In Celebration of the Mother” by student Skye Hunt was ordered removed from the Earth Day display at Gananoque Intermediate and Secondary School. Lorraine Payette/for Postmedia Network

(Gananoque, ON – May 1, 2023) One student believes censorship is alive and well in Gananoque Intermediate and Secondary School (GISS). She produced a special painting – “In Celebration of the Mother” – to be hung in the school front foyer for Earth Day, but it was hardly up before she was told to remove it.

“When I heard about Skye’s painting not allowed in the show at GISS I was shocked,” said Dennis O’Connor, proprietor of the O’Connor Gallery. “It’s 2023 and it’s an image of Mother Nature painted for Earth Day. The painting is quite a statement not only on our beleaguered planet but the continued suppression of women. Censoring it is taking yet another giant step back in women’s rights.”

The work shows a topless woman rising from the living soil. She is proud and strong, a mother looking out over her realm. Her stretch marks crack her stone outer surface to reveal the pure gold beneath, and she has all the marks normal adult women can identify with – hip dips, cellulite, comfortable fleshy rolls, breasts. Her hair is made up of dark clouds swirling around her head, and water flows from them nourishing the ground below. Moss creeps up her hips as it does many boulders rooted to the earth, clothing her in life itself. She is powerful, an image representing not only the planet we depend on for our very survival, but all women and all mothers everywhere.

“I usually work in acrylic paints, and for this piece I really wanted to normalize our ‘flaws’, as the media calls them – things like stretch marks, hip dips, cellulite, rolls – and breasts in general,” said artist Skye Hunt. “I think it was really important and when I hear ‘Earth’ I think ‘mother’ and women. Earth is ‘woman’. I think this piece really helps display that.” 

Women have legally been allowed to bare their breasts in Ontario since 1996. Most don’t, but that does not mean that there is anything wrong with toplessness. Breast feeding is commonplace, and the artist believes that the human breast is a normal part of the body, not something that should be pointed at and sexualized.

“This whole notion of bare breasts being socially unacceptable is antiquated,” said O’Connor.

“I couldn’t believe they were trying to segregate her painting,” said Chantel Hunt, Skye’s mother. “I felt like everybody should be able to see it. There’s nothing wrong about it and for them to take it down or want to push her into the back so people couldn’t see it really upset me. I am so proud – I think that she hit the nail on the head with this Earth Day presentation they were doing at the school, and I think she’s beautiful. I am so impressed with her portrayal of Mother Earth, and I was very upset that they wouldn’t show this in the school.”

Student and artist Skye Hunt and her mother Chantel with Skye’s work, “In Celebration of the Mother”. The painting was ordered removed from the Earth Day display at Gananoque Intermediate and Secondary School. Lorraine Payette/for Postmedia Network

The school principal called Skye’s mother and spoke with her about the issue, but that doesn’t change things much in the minds of the Hunts.

“If there was anything we could do so that this doesn’t happen again to anyone else then we would love to do that,” said Chantel. “I’m not sure we’re going to get any resolution out of that.”

“It’s illegal for them to censor that,” said Steve Behal, professional artist and member of the Gananoque Arts Network (GAN). “Artists have a right to show works of art. It’s about the integrity of art. We fought hard for these rights to artistic freedom. GAN, I believe, will do something in order to make our voices heard as artists. We cannot let this continue. GAN supports Skye in what she’s doing here. Congratulations to her –I am thrilled. She clearly has talent, and she clearly has a message.”

Skye has done other works that have apparently not upset the school.

“I have some of my paintings in the TLC (the library) and it’s interesting because some of them have eyeballs,” she said. “There’s blood, organs in the paintings, and they’re in clear sight, and the TLC is used by everyone. All ages are seeing that, but they wouldn’t let this piece of art which shows a body – a female body with normal flaws – they wouldn’t let me put that up.”

“Skye Hunt is a talented artist, and this is reflected in her work at school and in the community,” said Upper Canada District School Board when asked for its response to the issue. “She has created many art pieces at Gananoque Intermediate and Secondary School that have been featured. However, due to the mature nature of her Mother Earth painting, it was not displayed in the front foyer of the school for the one-day exhibition. This area of the school is accessed by all students, including some who are as young as 11-years-old. The context of the school’s front foyer is different than that of an art gallery. The principal has discussed this with the family to provide clarity on why this piece was not shown in that area of the school.”

“This puritanical American attitude is thankfully not the norm around the world,” said O’Connor. “Indeed, the Vatican and European countries have normalized nudity in art and public spaces.

“Skye has created a beautiful portrait of a strong female. This young, talented, brave woman has expressed herself honestly and with integrity.

“The school has brought far more attention to her work in not displaying her painting. And perhaps being banned is just what it needed to illustrate just how things have not changed in our schools. Censorship is not progressive.

“O’Connor Gallery is proud to display this in our window. The gallery is exhibiting many nudes both male and female from some of the country’s most accomplished artists. She is in excellent company.”

To see Skye Hunt’s work – “In Celebration of the Mother” – visit the O’Connor Gallery on King Street East in Gananoque.

“It will be in the window until the 9th of May and then will hang in the gallery for a while.”

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