(NEW YORK)— Lydia Nobles’ As I Sit Waiting series was scheduled for exhibition at Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho this month, but the artist received notice last week that her art would no longer be shown. Days before the exhibition was set to open, she was told her work violated the No Public Funds for Abortion Act, a state law that prohibits the use of any government funding to “promote” abortion.

“Lewis-Clark State College’s decision to pull artworks from an exhibit on urgent challenges in healthcare today is a slap in the face to academic and artistic freedom; it undermines the first principle of the First Amendment that government cannot silence speech simply because it disapproves of its content,” said Kristen Shahverdian, senior manager of Free Expression and Education at PEN America.

Nobles’ piece depicted women discussing their experiences with reproductive care, including abortion care, and was slated to be shown alongside art exploring other personal topics such as chronic illness, gun violence, and sexual assault. In total, six works of artwork were removed from the exhibition and a seventh has been modified to exclude references to abortion. In addition to Nobles, these included works by the curator of the exhibit, Katrina Majkut, and Chicago-based artist Michelle Hartney. 

Shahverdian said: “This draconian act of censorship is particularly troubling on a college campus, where the exchange of ideas should be free from political interference, and that includes art. And this is just the latest in a series of worrying episodes of censorship triggered by state bans on abortion, among them a recent cancellation of a mural at State College of Florida – Manatee-Sarasota, and a directive from administrators at the University of Idaho that all faculty and staff remain neutral on the topics of abortion and contraception in all circumstances.  Banning these artworks signals to people — especially women — that they must silence themselves and their experiences when it comes to any aspect of reproductive or sexual health, stripping them of their fundamental rights to free expression. A campus where topics are verboten is a campus that cannot freely engage in political or cultural discussion. Lewis-Clark State College should reverse the decision and allow the exhibition to go up as originally planned.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

About the Artists at Risk Connection

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. ARC recently established a grantmaking initiative for at-risk visual artists from Ukraine and Eurasia, including an emergency fund for basic living expenses as well as a resilience grant to help artists sustain their creative practices. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057