Yale threatens to ban Shvarts’ art project from show

This article has been corrected. You may view this article’s correction here.

The University will not allow Aliza Shvarts ’08 to display her controversial senior art project at its scheduled opening Tuesday unless she confesses in writing that the exhibition is a work of fiction, Yale officials said Sunday.The University, meanwhile, acknowledged that it has disciplined two faculty members for their role in allowing Shvarts to proceed with a project that she claimed included nine months of repeated artificial inseminations followed by self-induced miscarriages.

As news of Shvarts’ project swept across the Web last week and attracted the ire of students and private citizens alike, Shvarts and the University engaged in a match of he-said/she-said: Shvarts stood by her project as she described it earlier last week in a news release, while the University — claiming Shvarts had privately denied actually committing the acts in question — dismissed it as a hoax that amounted to nothing more than “performance art.”

And with the scheduled opening of her exhibition rapidly approaching, the University only intensified its criticism this weekend.

“I am appalled,” Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said in a statement Friday. “This piece of performance art as reported in the press bears no relation to what I consider appropriate for an undergraduate senior project.”

School of Art Dean Robert Storr also condemned the project in a written statement Friday.

“If I had known about this, I would not have permitted it to go forward,” Storr said in the statement. “This is not an acceptable project in a community where the consequences go beyond the individual who initiates the project and may even endanger that individual.”

Shvarts did not return several telephone messages this weekend.

Meanwhile, Salovey said in the Friday statement that he and Storr would reassess what constitutes an “appropriate” senior project and the process through which such projects are overseen by faculty.

Two days later, Salovey and Storr announced that an investigation had found “serious errors in judgement” on the part of two unnamed individuals who had been involved in her project before it incited mass condemnation across campus and across the country and that “appropriate action” had been taken against them.

“In one case, the instructor responsible for the senior project should not have allowed it to go forward,” Salovey said. “In the other, an adviser should have interceded and consulted others when first given information about the project.”

In interviews last week, Shvarts said that Lindman and van Assen had both supported her project before it became the object of public dismay. The Davenport College senior defended her project as “University-sanctioned” because it had received their approval.

“I started out with the University on board with what I was doing, and because of the media frenzy they’ve been trying to dissociate with me,” she said at the time. “Ultimately, I want to get back to a point where they renew their support, because ultimately this was something they supported.”

Van Assen declined requests for comment last week, and Lindman did not respond to repeated attempts to contact her. Other officials in the School of Art have repeatedly referred requests for comment to the Office of Public Affairs.

In his statement Sunday night, Salovey called on Shvarts to produce a written confession admitting that her project did not actually include the graphic acts that she had first described. He added that Shvarts will not be allowed to install her project unless she admits she did not try to inseminate herself and induce miscarriages and promises that no human blood will be displayed in her exhibit.

While showing diagrams of the exhibit to reporters from the News on Thursday, Shvarts said she planned to construct a four-foot-wide cube made from PVC pipe that would hang suspended from the ceiling of the gallery, wrapped in hundreds of feet of plastic sheeting. Between the layers of this sheeting would be thick coatings of Vaseline, which she plans to use as an “extender” for the display of her bodily fluids.

Shvarts’ plans also include the projection of videos of her possible miscarriages onto the plastic sheeting. These videos show Shvarts, wearing headphones and in a bathroom tub, removing blood from her body and collecting it in disposable cups.

Shvarts said Thursday that if the University does not allow her to exhibit her senior art project at Green Hall on Tuesday, she has no plans for an alternative venue to showcase her work.

If the exhibition does go ahead, it will likely require heavy security. A Yale official said last week that the incident has drawn more press inquiries to the University than any episode since the controversy over the admission of former Taliban diplomat Rahmatullah Hashemi in 2006.

But if the art opening does not continue, the University is likely to face criticism that it has restricted freedom of expression.

In his statement, Storr emphasized that the University “has a profound commitment to freedom of expression” and that he, personally, supports the legality of abortion.

“That said, Yale does not encourage or condone projects that would involve unknown health risks to the student,” Storr said. “Nor does it believe that open discourse and inquiry can exist in an educational and creative community when an individual exercises these rights but evades full intellectual accountability for the strong response he or she may provoke.”

Shvarts’ installation would be unveiled at the official reception for the Undergraduate Senior Art Show on Tuesday at Green Hall. The exhibition will be on public display from April 22 to May 1.

Comments