Nudity, Art and Quilt Art

Recently the quilt world was aflutter with talk of penises, and I became embroiled in the discussion-of course.

The American Quilter’s Society, known as AQS, chose to pull Kathy Nida’s artwork titled, I Was Not Wearing A Life Jacket, from a SAQA show because of a complaint that there was a penis depicted. In Kathy’s own words, ‘There was no penis‘. Abby Glassenberg wrote a great essay on How AQS Mishandled the Online Fallout After pulling Kathy Nida’s Quilts, which is a great introduction to how the story unfolded. SAQA responded with this statement, which, in my opinion, is serviceable with a noticeable wish to connect and explain. AQS, on the other hand, buried its head in the sand.

In an effort at full disclosure, I am hesitant to speak about SAQA’s part in this debacle, because I stopped renewing my membership with the group years ago- and I feel my points would be stronger, were I to be an active member. Even still, I have been reevaluating what groups, magazines and venues might help me get my work seen while also helping me connect to our shared community. I have not yet renewed my membership to SAQA, though they are top on my list of possibilities.

I would like to back up to 2007 or so, when I put the label on Gentle, seen below.


When I began making Gentle, I was a member of SAQA, and I was showing a lot of work with my local group. It was fun, I met great people, we were able to find some great venues, and my confidence bloomed while my resume grew. This is everything an artist could want in a membership of this type. 

While quilting Gentle, a friend remarked, “Why make an image of a nude male with penis visible, it will never get shown in the quilt world”. 

And alas, it never did.

I entered it into as many shows as I could, both through my SAQA group and in the larger quilt show community. But it never gained acceptance into a quilt show. Conversely, Repose and Wandering in the Garden have not had any problems with gaining visibility or acceptance into shows or magazines. But, we are conditioned to see and accept the female nude body, so it is easy to see why they both gained acceptance.

I understand that AQS has their own agenda, one that does not seem to be aligned with embracing artistic expression to the degree that Kathy’s artwork might require. SAQA, at least, took ownership of their part by admitting their contract allowed for this to occur and suggesting that they will continue to look for galleries and museums to show works.

But, the fact that the artwork was taken down?

That is censorship. 

Women and women’s art isn’t always pretty, it’s not always easy to view, but it -is- pretty hard to see (this Gorilla Girls poster was created in 2012). Head over to the Gorilla Girls website for more interesting but sad facts about women’s art getting seen. 

Gender Reassign text new file re link

I must acknowledge, the quilting world does a great job of getting quilts seen. So when a show instantly backs a single viewer and removes a piece of art without question, it’s it is both startling and disheartening. And for them to remove a piece of art for containing -a nonexistent- penis, is questionable (and sad too). 

I don’t really think the censorship we have experienced with AQS has much to do with male nudity but rather with difficult, uncomfortable, and devisive subject matter within a predominately female artistic media. To remove Kathy’s work based on the false premise of a penis depiction, is tantamount to saying, ‘that is not pretty enough’, ‘that makes me uncomfortable’, because there was no penis

I love and appreciate that we quilters have made a huge community of traveling quilt shows and venues. We have created our own subculture and we are making sure that quilts get -signed and seen- as the art they are. But I would hope that we would think long and hard before censoring the subject matter we see at these shows.  All it takes is -walking past work that does not resonate with you-.

Kathy’s artwork was removed because of a false accusation. AQS did not question the validity of the claim, did not contact the artist, and it refuses to acknowledge the issue through social media. This type action can result in questioning the content we choose to explore as artists, forcing us to answer difficult questions like, ‘Do I make this piece, even if I won’t be able to get it shown?’ ‘Is this subject matter too difficult?’ ‘Do I follow where my muse takes me, or do I make work that is safe and acceptable?’

I know from personal experience that these questions have great impact. I have not made another male nude because I was so bummed about not being able to get Gentle seen. 

Fortunately, this will soon change. Spool owned by Maddie, Flaun and family, have invited me to show Gentle along side Kathy Nida’s two pieces, I Was Not Wearing a Life Jacket and Fully Medicated, during AQS Quilt Week, September 14-17 2016.

Social media has had a unifying affect on the quilt world. I have been really excited, invigorated and happy to be a member of the quilt world in the face of these happenings. The rift created by Modern Quilt Guild (I am talking about the derivative discussion) paired with this AQS debacle have shed light on the passion, connection and strength contained within our diverse community. It also serves to illustrate introspection and a willingness to grow and change. 

All great stuff!

Because of all of this, I want to stress, DO NOT allow the censorship of Kathy Nida’s artwork to have an effect on your willingness to discuss difficult subject matter in your quilts and quilt art. It is not our job as artists to appease our audience or to make our work palatable to venues (and viewers) who do not have our best interest in mind.

And, you never know, you may find an advocate for the beauty of the human body, wanting to show your work, during the same week as the AQS show. All because you showed up, voiced your thoughts and opinions, and you care.

And to that I say:

Spool Kertay Penis

Please stop by Spool to see Kathy Nida’s two works, I was not wearing a Life Jacket and Fully Medicated and my own piece, Gentle! Say hello to Maddie and Flaun.

AND! They will have pins with the above sentiment to wear to the AQS show! 

I would love it if you wore a pin, photographed yourself in front of Kathy’s work and post it to social media with the hashtag #AQS. You might also choose to point out the penis in Gentle, to give them an anatomy lesson. ♥

6 thoughts on “Nudity, Art and Quilt Art

  1. I was so dismayed and angry at AQS. If this was 1980 and the art quilt movement was in its infancy, I could understand them not wanting the whole exhibit. There will always be those who find offense at the human form, over controversial social issues, etc. Does society bend to the sensibilities of those few? Why should we? It is censorship, period. To call it something else does a dis-service to society. I shudder to think what the person would say if they went to a museum? Cover the statues of David with leaves? AQS was wrong and should own up to it. I applaud Spool’s owners and staff for taking a stand. I am so glad that Gentle is going to be shown with Kathy’s. Your nude series has always been my favorite series.


  2. The quilt is beautiful…..honestly I wouldn’t have noticed the penis for a while if it hadn’t been mentioned in the article. Of course Art is ART….and the human body has been depicted sans clothing for centuries by artists. I think AQS would choose to emasculate Michelangelo’s David.


  3. When this debacle broke on social media, I immediately thought of your work, “Gentle”. I didn’t realise that it’s never been shown in an exhibition. ‘Gentle’ is so beautiful and yet because it has a penis in it, it’s been relegated to the forbidden – shame on us. Kathy’s work didn’t even have a penis, yet it’s deep and disturbing and uncomfortable, so also relegated to the forbidden pile. You’ve been a huge influence on my own work and I love all your work, so I’m glad ‘Gentle’ will get shown. And people will actually be able to find the penis this time! Let’s hope Kathy’s quilt’s being pulled actually have a positive effect on the quilt exhibition world because of all the conversations that have been started.


  4. I never realized your work Gentle was never shown. It is such a beautiful piece. And now I bet it is because of the nudity that it wasn’t accepted. I would have never thought that was an issue before. How naive of me. What a shame our culture has such a problem with showing the human body. I just don’t get it. Never will. I
    Interesting query you make about what content we explore based on if we consider it acceptable by others or not.


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