So, I’m taking myself out to the Graves art gallery in Sheffield to see the exhibition of photography by Robert Mapplethorpe this week.

Robert Mapplethorpe was born in 1946 in New York. He died in 1989 after being diagnosed with HIV in 1986. He’s best known for his large, bold, black and white photos of objects and naked people, and for his relationship and work with Patti Smith. His work often caused scandal both while he was alive and after his death, because, for some reason, lots of people don’t like to look at human bodies. While his work is now widely seen and accepted his name and his images continue to be synonymous with controversy.

I’m a sucker for anything I’m told I shouldn’t see or can’t do. Four years ago, when Samuel West was artistic director at The Sheffield Crucible Theatre, he put on the first production of Howard Brenton’s play, The Romans in Britain, since its original release. When this play was first released in 1980, Mary Whitehouse attempted, unsuccessfully, to have it banned, as it deals briefly with male rape perpetrated by Roman soldiers during the time they occupied Britain. Ms Whitehouse might not have succeeded in court, but she did manage to cause a situation where no theatre or director was willing to show the play for fear of the repercussions. You’d think by now we would have learned to cope with these things, but no, as soon as it was announced that Samuel West was daring to stage this play in 2006 there was an uproar. A Christian group threatened to picket the entrance to the theatre. I immediately bought tickets that day. I was actually really disappointed that the Christians didn’t stick it out past opening night as I was looking forward to crossing their picket line. The play, amongst other things, mainly wars and occupation through the ages, involved lots of naked men in the opening scenes. The offending rape scene was not cut and I’m sure could have been quite shocking to some. I have to say I was surprised by how graphic it all was, although by that time I’d been looking at these men’s bits for so long I wasn’t as fazed as I might have been. But, guess what? Nobody in the theatre was offended because we had all chosen to see the play and we all knew what it involved. The people who were complaining and threatening to form picket lines at the doors of the theatre didn’t, and I expect never will, see the play.

And so I’ll be looking at photos of naked bodies this week. It’s art. Not everybody wants to see it, but then they don’t have to, do they?

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