A school in the U.K. refused to let a student display a breastfeeding painting in a classroom because it didn’t want to offend Muslims using the room to pray during Ramadan.
Martha Armitage, an 18-year-old student at Tapton Secondary School, said she was furious about the school’s decision to censor her art in such a way — despite the fact that it wound up being displayed in another room at the school.
“As usual breastfeeding is being depicted in a sexual way. Why are people thinking it is sexual?” she said. “My school should see my paintings as normalising [sic] breastfeeding. The more it is seen then the more acceptable it will be. I was breastfed as a child, as were my three brothers, and I don't see anything wrong with it. It was only a couple of years ago, when my brother and sister-in-law had their first child, that I realised [sic] there seemed to be a lot of fuss about it. In my family breastfeeding is normal, I'm flabbergasted people disagree.”
The painting was a project that was done as part of Armitage’s finals for art class. She took photos of her sister-in-law breastfeeding her now 5-month-old baby, brought the photos to class and worked on the art over the course of several exam sessions. Her father, Alex — head of the art department — and mother, Mandy, both expressed how proud they were of their daughter’s work.
Armitage said she wasn’t informed of the school’s decision to remove the painting, and instead noticed it was not on display when she went to the school to collect prom tickets.
“I went to speak to the art technician because I wanted to see my artwork, I hadn't seen it since I'd submitted it for my A-level,” she said.
“The technician told me the artwork wasn't going on display at all because it includes breasts and it's Ramadan. I was just really, really shocked. I didn't know what to say. I left the school and when I went home I told my mum about it, she sent an email to the school. In their reply, they spoke about not having the artwork on display in the conference room which was going to be used as a prayer room.”
Armitage said that Muslims in the school have not informed her that they’re offended by the painting, despite school officials’ concerns.
“The school think it's respecting the tolerance of Muslims during Ramadan because my pictures show nipples, but if I showed a baby being fed by bottle it would be fine, they are promoting the wrong thing,” she said. “They are censoring my work because it involves a bit of nudity. Why are they looking at the painting for the nipple? And not the concept of a mother bonding with her baby?”
Tapton Secondary joint heads Claire Tasker and David Dennis subsequently released a statement in response to the controversy.
“Tapton School is an inclusive school. Our mission statement is 'Value everyone, care for each other and achieve excellence.’ Martha's work is beautiful and she is rightly proud of it,” the statement read. “Equally, we teach our students to be strong, articulate and to stand up for what they believe in so we admire her tenacity but there is some misunderstanding and misrepresentation in what she is sharing via social media.”
“The room is used for meetings, as an exam space and also as a prayer room at lunchtimes,” the statement continued.
“We made the decision (as it was during Ramadan) to not put the images of breast feeding into this room. The pieces are actually on display in the Finance Office which is frequented by far more staff and students on a daily basis. Before that they were on display in our Art rooms and admired by all. We have invited Martha to come into school to discuss her concerns - this is always the better way forward.”
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Screenshot via Facebook