An Artist Has Created A Live Nude Installation In Protest Of Instagram’s Nipple Ban

The project took place yesterday in Manhattan, New York.

We the nipple Spencer Tunick

by Sofia Tindall |
Updated on

It's a well-known fact that Instagram doesn't like nipples. Or rather: Instagram doesn't like female nipples. It doesn't really matter that there is virtually no difference in appearance between the female nipple and the male nipple, or to nipples in art or on statues (which are permitted by Instagram guidelines - radical?). If your holiday plans are in the South of France this year and you plan to get really cultural, then I don't know what to tell you: sorry, but social media says a big no

Currently, the guidelines state that videos that are 'appropriate for a diverse audience' do not include a woman's nipples and they remain categorised alongside content including 'sexual intercourse, genitals and close-up fully nude buttocks' (exceptions are made for images of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding).

While it makes sense for a platform hosting those aged 10 upwards to impose some restrictions (we're talking porn here, not a part of the anatomy designed primarily to feed infants), quite rightly a few people have some objections.

The artist, Spencer Tunick became the latest to make a stand, by collaborating with the National Coalition Against Censorship (#wethenipple) to co-ordinate and photograph a protest of dozens of naked models in New York, who gathered to demonstrate against the Instagram and Facebook's nudity guidelines based on the way that they limit artists.

Spencer Tunick

The demonstration took place yesterday outside of the Astor Place subway station in Manhattan. Both men and women took part, with women covering their nipples with images of male nipples - something Tunick refers to as 'donated' nipples - which, according to the organisation 'highlight the rigid—and anachronistic—gender inequality in existing nudity policies'. All protesters also used large photographs of nipples to cover the groin.

The 'donated nipples' stickers used by women taking part in the protest aren't just any nipples either - Artist's Andres Serrano and Paul Mpagi Sepuya in addition to Tunick himself, Bravo's Andy Cohen and Chad Smith, drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers have all handed over photographs of their nipples for the cause. (If you're trying hard not to think about people wandering around New York in Chad Smith's nipples right now, you are not alone.)

The protest is targeted at Facebook and Instagram bans on photographic representations of the nude body. While the platforms allow nude statues and sculptures, We The Nipple argue that the ban has curbed artists from sharing artistic photographic representations of nude bodies. The organizations website states that social media 'has dramatically increased artists’ ability to reach–and build–their audiences. Unless their medium is photography and their subject is the body.'

'The nudity ban prevents many artists from sharing their work online,' they continue. 'It particularly harms artists whose work focuses on their own bodies, including queer and gender-nonconforming artists, and the bodies of those in their communities.

'Platforms like Instagram allow up-and-coming artists, and all artists without access to traditional methods of distribution, to reach global audiences on a scale unimaginable to earlier generations.'

We the nipple

In recent years there's been a backlash against Instagram's nipple ban: the Free The Nipple campaign has seen protestors walk through New York City topless to promote the right for women to go topless in public (which Bruce Willis's daughter, Scout joined in on, if you're here for a bit of celebrity trivia).

In 2017, the 'Genderless Nipple' Instagram account also popped up to do pretty much what it says on the tin - post images of nipples that are impossible to identify as either male or female. In doing so, it threw Instagram's algorithm out of whack - and made a pretty succinct point about the platform's censorship politics- as some of the images that were censored were actually male nipples.

However, this might be the first time a secret nude protest involving celebrity-donated nipple images has been organised to challenge nudity guidelines. It's certainly not a first for Tunick, who's become something of the Uri Geller of large-scale nude live art installations. Some of his past projects have also made similarly striking political statements - in July 2019 the artist collaborated with 100 women who protested during the Republican National Convention, holding up reflective discs for a nude installation. The project encouraged political parties to reflect through the mirrored installation 'against the hateful repressive rhetoric of many in the Republican Party towards women and minorities.'

More recently in 2018, Tunick also photographed 860 men and women in Melbourne who created a nude installation covered in sheer red veils as a part of a series of projects.

Spencer Tunick

As social media platforms continue to be prudishly scandalized by the female nipple, there remains a lot to unpack in the discussion of censorship surrounding female nudity.

Perhaps if nipples were more normalized, for example - breastfeeding in public would be made easier and women wouldn't have to resort to feeding or pumping in toilets or office cupboards? One thing's for sure, the protest against Instagram and Facebook's ban of female nipples are showing no sign of slowing down. With calls for social media platforms to stem growing teenage self-harm communities that have aggregated through hashtags and uncensored images - maybe it's high time that social media platforms turned their guideline attentions to those issues instead?

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