Artist claims censorship
SHARON, Conn. — Millerton News editorial cartoonist Dianne Engleke was taken by complete surprise recently, when hanging her art exhibit, Opinion Ink 2, at the Sharon Town Hall’s Galleria. Ten out of 24 of her cartoons were pulled from the exhibit, without any prior notice. She’s accusing employees and elected officials at Town Hall of censorship.
“We hung [half of] the show Tuesday and were going to finish Wednesday. While doing so a lot of people were hanging around and saw the first 24 pieces and did not seem to have a problem with them,” she said, adding her cartoons have already been shown at the NorthEast-MIllerton Library Annex, a much larger venue, without any issue. “I went back the next day [to Town Hall] and the wall that should have had nine cartoons had one left. My first thought was that they fell, then I realized that wasn’t possible. I went around the corner and saw more spaces.
“Then a man came out, didn’t introduce himself, and said the committee thought the ones taken down were inappropriate,” Engleke continued. “He did not tell me what the committee was. He pointed to the remaining pieces and asked if I wanted to show them ... so I said, ‘No, thank you, this is censorship,’ and took the rest down.”
That man, whom Engleke later identified as town volunteer William Braislin, is the chairman of the Town Hall Building Committee. That committee has four members and oversees the Town Hall. When asked about the incident he replied with a brief statement.
“I would love to discuss this with you but I think this thing has exploded and I just don’t want to comment,” Braislin said. “[The decision to remove the cartoons was made by] one of the members in charge of the art department, not me.... I’d rather not say who it is.”
While Braislin indicated an individual made the final decision, First Selectman Bob Loucks said it was more of a group decision to pull Engleke’s cartoons from the exhibit.
“A number of people walked through and found some of the [drawings] offensive, and then people who look after the building walked though and thought [the work] was not appropriate to be hung, and they requested some be taken down,” Loucks said. “And when she came back she got herself upset and took them all down and left.”
Engleke’s cartoons express her opinions on a wide array of subjects. Many of them are political and are critical of politicians and elected officials, particularly those in Washington, D.C.
“They weren’t all offensive,” Loucks said, adding he was not responsible for the decision. “I didn’t do it. There was no one person, and I’m not really going to say a lot about it, especially if there’s going to be some kind of legal thing turned over to an attorney.”
When asked if there has been any talk about legal action, on either side of the issue, the first selectman said no, but added there has just been so much talk about the incident that he wants to be prepared for the worst case scenario. Engleke said the Town Hall has received calls in protest of her work being removed.
As far as taking it to the courts, Engleke said, “there isn’t going to be any legal action.” She did mention the Supreme Court, and the battles it has seen over the years regarding the issue of censorship.
“It’s something the Supreme Court has wrestled with forever,” she said.
Her cartoons, which have appeared in The Millerton News since May of 2006, are appropriate, according to her. The artist believes the cartoons encourage dialogue, provoke deep thought and sometimes even stir viewers to action — all of the things Engleke strives for in her work, and not a single trait she was trying to hide from those at the Sharon Town Hall, she added.
“I was not unknown. I didn’t blind-side them,” she said. Engleke had met with Tax Collector Donna Christensen, curator of the gallery, to review her drawings before the show. “And I got the feeling when [Braislin] spoke to me that I put one over on them, but I was hanging the exhibit in full view.”
Among the drawings that were removed, “one was about China and Tibet and the Olympics. There was one about the Blackwater contractors making more money than regular soldiers; it was pro-Army. And there was one critical of the Bush administration about a decision affecting medical insurance for children.”
The cartoons critical of Obama and the Clintons, she noted, were not removed from the walls.
“I don’t understand how in a public space, paid for and maintained by tax dollars, that a committee can make decisions about what is shown and what people can have access to,” Engleke said. “I think the disturbing thing here is it seems to be arbitrary censorship.”
However, Loucks insisted it was anything but.
“Censorship? No, I don’t think so at all,” he said. “She took them out, not us. It was her decision to take them [all] down. I wasn’t in here when they were taken down so I wouldn’t know [anything about the exhibit being censored].”
At the end of the interview the question was once again asked: “But knowing that selected drawings were taken down by someone for their content, as you have confirmed, even if you were not present at the time, do you consider that censorship?”
Loucks’ answer: “I wouldn’t want to comment on that.”