Artistic censorship continues to pursue Pieter Paul Rubens. In the 17th century, the Flemish Baroque painter was asked by the Catholic Church to paint camouflaging ‘loincloths’ over certain body parts of his Venus figures. Nowadays, social media networks, including Facebook, go one step further. All breasts, buttocks and cherubs painted by artists such as Rubens are banned on these platforms. ‘Bots’ on Facebook use artificial intelligence to screen for nudity, but do not make a distinction between pornographic images or nudity in art. Flanders – the perfect place to enjoy the Flemish Masters in all their glory – is denouncing this artistic censorship in a playful manner. At the Rubens House, ‘nudity viewers’ with a Facebook account were blocked from viewing nudity by a group of “social media police agents”.

The Flemish Masters are best experienced in Flanders, the number one destination for art lovers. After all, this is where Rubens, Bruegel and Van Eyck lived and worked. Their work can often be found still hanging in the very same places for which they were made. “We want to promote this unique experience,” says Peter De Wilde, CEO of VISITFLANDERS. “Our Flemish Masters attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to Flanders each year and we are proud of this achievement. With our multi-year programme focusing on Rubens, Bruegel and Van Eyck, which was launched in 2018, we are aiming for three million visitors by the end of 2020. At the moment it is not possible for us to promote our unique cultural heritage via one of the most popular social media networks. Our art is categorised as being indecent and sometimes even pornographic. This is such a shame as it restricts the promotion of our Flemish Masters.”

The agency in charge of promoting tourism in Flanders, Belgium explains that they have invested 30 million dollars in 2018 to improve the experience of cultural travellers visiting that region, especially in cities like Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent and Brussels. Now they can’t promote some of those museums due to restrictive policies applied by some online social networks.

‘We are for it and not against it’ is what the people of Flanders say.

Peter De Wilde explains, “Social media and art have a lot in common. Art brings people together. Social media brings people together, and our Flemish Masters too. This is why we want to enter into discussions with Facebook so that we can use this platform as one way in which to make our art visible. Surely it’s not that difficult to differentiate between cultural heritage and gratuitous nudity?”

VISITFLANDERS position is supported by several top museums in Belgium and around Europe. In an open letter, the institutions ask Mark Zuckerberg to revise Facebook’s policy related to art, culture and heritage. Click here to read the open letter.

“We tried various channels to bring this matter to Facebook’s attention. Unfortunately nobody listened,” De Wilde explains. Flanders hopes the comedy video produced in Rubens’s House will facilitate a discussion to solve the issue and allow users to view this content that is present in encyclopaedias and elementary school grade text books. “Flanders is a unique art destination. But because we are naturally modest in Flanders, we do not shout out about it often enough. This stunt enables us to make our presence felt and also honour the spirit of Pieter Paul Rubens. He was an artistic rebel who was not afraid of engaging in social debate. There’s no finer tribute to honour our Flemish Master than by taking up the battle against unnecessary artistic censor- ship.”

Watch the film of the Social Media Police by clicking here.


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About Visit Flanders

About the Flemish Masters. For over 250 years, from the 15th  to long into the 17th century, Flanders was a figurehead for fine arts in Western Europe and the source of inspiration for well-known art movements of the time, such as the Flemish primitives, the Renaissance and the Baroque. Artists were known for their craftsmanship, creativity and technical innovations and they transformed the prosperous and urbanised Flanders into one of the most refined cultural regions with their impressive artistic and architectural creations. www.flemishmasters.com

About the Van Eyck brothers, masters of realism.  Hubert van Eyck painted part of the Ghent Altarpiece, but wasn't able to finish it. His younger brother, Jan, an absolute master painter, completed the magnificent work after Hubert's death. Jan van Eyck made a huge contribution to the revolution in painting that occurred in the Low Countries. He is one of the most important representatives of the Flemish Masters. Van Eyck is famous for his meticulous, realistic portraits and was one of the first Flemish artists to sign many of his works. 

About 2020, the Van Eyck year. In 2020, the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent will honour Jan van Eyck with the exhibition, ‘Van Eyck. An optical revolution’. Only around twenty of his works still exist worldwide. A substantial proportion of them will be travelling to Ghent, where they will be exhibited beside works by his most talented contemporaries in a rare and unique opportunity. In 2020, Van Eyck will entice the five senses in Ghent. Ghent's visual arts, theatre, dance, design, fashion, cuisine, music and shops will bask in the atmosphere of Van Eyck and his exquisite masterpieces. www.omgvaneyckwashere.be

About Ghent, the home of Van Eyck's masterpiece. The lively city of Ghent is certainly worth a visit. Idiosyncratic Ghent is full of history and offers a cultural cocktail filled to the brim with trendy and modern urban life. Ghent is a city for bonvivants, with a permissive, laid-back atmosphere; a city with a human scale. The friendly, welcoming residents of Ghent know how to live well. During your city trip, don't miss the opportunity to admire the world famous masterpiece, the Ghent Altarpiece, by the Van Eyck brothers.  

About VISITFLANDERS – an agency of the government of Flanders – it is an official tourism organisation responsible for tourism in Flanders. This organisation is dedicated to the sustainable development and promotion of domestic and foreign tourism in Flanders, and aims to ensure increased economic return, employment and well-being (for the residents of Flanders). www.visitflanders.com