Canadian artist and bodybuilder Cassils has a powerful physique that is not easily classified. The artist's piece Advertisement: Hommage to Benglis — a collaboration with photographer and makeup artist Robin Black and an homage to Linda Benglis's 1974 piece Advertisement — is a direct response to the continued policing of trans and gender non-conforming bodies. How perfectly sad then that it was banned from being displayed throughout Germany — and to advertise an LGBT art show, no less. German Railroad Deutsche Bahn AG announced earlier this week that they were refusing to display the advertising poster featuring Cassils's body in the stations of any of the national and international lines they operate throughout the country, deeming the photo "sexist," "sexualized," and "pornographic," reports ARTnews. They have now lifted the ban after being accused of homophobia. But in response, Cassils claims that "the real issue is transphobia."
The exhibition, Homosexuality_ies, is a multimedia exhibition exploring 150 years of homosexuality and queer identity. It aims to show "how same-sex sexuality and non-conformist gender identities have been criminalized through legislation, pathologized in medicine, and excluded from society," wrote Berlin's Deutsches museum last year. Homosexuality_ies has been displayed at two Berlin cities already, but the ad posters didn't prompt any massive backlash until it traveled up to Münster's Westphalian State Museum of Art and Cultural History.
One of the exhibition's organizers — the Schwules Museum — issued a pretty on-point response to the railroad's transphobia via press statement. "We, the Schwules Museum, on the other hand consider the allegation and the resulting advertisement ban wrong and inappropriate," they said. "It is interesting that the Deutsche Bahn AG has no problems showing people — with nudity — in advertisements when they conform [to] heterosexual norms. Yet an image that obviously questions such norms is being 'censored' and considered unacceptable for public display."
Cassils draws parallels to the current highly charged debate in the U.S. over North Carolina's anti-LGBT bathroom bill. "The phobic response to Cassils' image here calls to mind broader instances of transphobia which seek to prohibit the presence of trans and gender-nonconforming bodies from public spaces," reads a statement on the artist's website. "Contrary to popular hysteria which considers the presence of trans people to be a threat, gender-nonconforming people, especially those of color, are extremely vulnerable to becoming the victims of attacks. Artwork such as that presented by Cassils is vital to the project of working against transphobia, and the recent attempt to ban these images from the public sphere only underlines their necessity."
Cassils notes that lifting the ban is pointless now since the advertising space has already been reallocated. The artist invites the public to download the image and paste it over the sexist yet heteronormative ads displayed in the Deutsche Bahn.
Text Hannah Ongley
Image via Facebook