I submitted a series of three photographs to the Bowdoin Art Society’s (BAS) call for submissions earlier this month with the hope that they would be included in the fall show. Shortly after my submission, I received an email from a representative of BAS who told me they needed to “push back” on my series. It was rejected because the BAS felt the need to “err on the side of caution when it comes to certain topics of controversy.”

Two of the photographs depict a realistic dildo, one juxtaposed with my forearm and the other with the open hand of a friend. They were made for an assignment in VART 2401: Large Format Photography that asked my peers and me to make photographs comparing objects that result in the viewer questioning common notions of the size of those objects. My images were successful in that aim and were well-received by the class. The size differences are so extreme that it is comical.

The most disturbing statement in the correspondence with BAS was the disclosure that the organization made the decision to reject my photos “to respect the Deans’ intentions for Family Weekend and their contributions to the possibility of the show.” What are their intentions and why do they differ so greatly from the normal operation of the College where my image is considered benign?

For context, BAS displayed a series of photographs in last year’s fall show that some administrators deemed inappropriate. As a result, the funding for the show was reduced. Less funding means less opportunity to exhibit student work this weekend.

The Art Society’s fall show should be a place for the Bowdoin community to display work without filter or administrative intervention. Failure of the organization and the administration to allow all opinions and expression undermines the freedom to express opinions on this campus. Art must be protected, even when dealing with controversial issues or graphic subject matter. The actions of the administration threaten the academic and intellectual missions of this institution and should be reconsidered immediately. The exclusion of art on these grounds sets a dangerous precedent for provocative art on this campus—allowing the administration to censor any installation that does not meet their standards for how they want the College to be viewed on any given day.

If Robert Mapplethorpe’s 1985 photograph “Cock” was currently on exhibition at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art (BCMA), would the administration have it removed as to not offend any visitors this weekend? It’s remarkably similar to my photographs and Mapplethorpe has encountered the same reasoning for censorship throughout his career. The administration would never intervene in the operation of BCMA. Because BAS has a similar mission particularly when it comes to displaying student work, administrators should allow students to curate the fall show free from interference or threats.

To the Art Society: decide whether you want an autonomous show that truly represents the breadth of talent at Bowdoin College or money from an administration that has no real appreciation for student artists and the free expression of opinion. You cannot have both.

The images are on view at garrettenglish.com.

Garrett English is a member of the Class of 2016.