The Century Project, an art collection of nude portraits of women aged from birth to 100, will appear on campus at the College of William and Mary March 16-20, and its use of images of girls under the age of 18 has generated some controversy.
The installation, by photographer Frank Cordelle, was originally planned to take place in the Sadler Center. College officials, however, moved the display to the Muscarelle Museum of Art.
“[The Century Project] is designed to be viewed in a very public setting,” event organizer Grace Sherman ’09 said. “This takes away from the message of female empowerment.”
In addition, Sherman said that Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell has ordered an external review of the show before it can be deemed acceptable for showing.
The show comes at a time when legislators and policymakers inside and outside the College community are focused on avoiding any controversy beyond that already generated by the Sex Workers’ Art Show, a performance that features current and former members of the sex industry. SWAS caused a stir during campus performances over the past two years, and College President Taylor Reveley said last week he would not prevent the show from coming to campus.
Sherman said she chose not to fight these decisions.
“It’s difficult to hear the Century Project lumped in with [the Sex Workers’ Art Show]. This is not sexual, and not pornographic,” she said. “This has nothing to do with sex art.”
The project appeared on campus in March 2003 with little controversy. Sherman witnessed the event with her family that year at Radford University.
“It was very empowering, very healthy. I left the exhibit feeling much more comfortable with my body,” she said. “As someone who dealt with body issues, it was great to leave with a better understanding of the body as a celebrated work of art.”
But the exhibit has been met with some protest this year.
“It should not be shown,” John Foubert ’90, a former education professor at the College, said. “I don’t think it’s right for William and Mary to pay money to a man who takes pictures of young girls in the nude. I think William and Mary can spend its money in better ways.”
Foubert started a campaign at the beginning of the month protesting the showing. His Facebook group “Say No to Nude 10, 12 and 16 Year old Girls Pics Displays by Colleges” counts over 300 members.
During his time at the College, Foubert founded the sexual assault prevention group One in Four and served as an adviser to the group for subsequent years. He recently left the school and is now a professor of higher education at Oklahoma State University.
“I think—particularly when it comes to girls under 18—it’s just not appropriate to show full frontal nudity,” Foubert said. “This show exploits them.”
After seeing the exhibit, Sherman decided to pose for Cordelle’s project with her mother and sister. She was 17 at the time.
“Everything that he does is completely legal … I have documented proof. I have a consent form that I signed—that my mother signed,” Sherman said. “In my opinion, none of these girls are being exploited.”
The Student Assembly has promised $1,750 of the necessary $4,000 to bring the exhibit to campus. But because of its sensitive nature, Sherman said she has had trouble finding co-sponsors.
“I’m not sure where the rest of the money will come from,” she said. “A couple Greek organizations have agreed to be involved, but nothing has been officially committed yet.”
One in Four president Brett Rector ’09 said the College’s chapter will maintain a position of neutrality toward the event.
Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler ’88 Ph.D. ’06 could not be reached for comment.