Artist: Evelyne Axell
Date of Action: February 2016
Region: North America
Confronting Bodies: Facebook
Description of Artwork: Evelyne Axell’s painting Ice Cream (1964) depicts a young woman licking an ice cream cone. Her face is shaded without color, in black and white tones, while her hair is bright orange. She is set against a bright green, yellow and blue background as she eats pistachio green and light pink ice cream.
The Incident: In February 2016, the Philadelphia Museum of Art posted Axell's painting to their Facebook page. Shortly afterwards, the social media platform removed the post for violating its content policies. In a statement to the museum, Facebook explained the painting was taken down for “containing excessive amounts of skin or suggestive content.”
Results of Incident: The museum defiantly re-posted the image with a caption inviting the public to comment on Facebook's decision to censor the artwork. It read:
"Her work can be understood as a critique of mainstream Pop Art, in which women were often depicted as passive, decorative objects. In contrast, Axell sought to depict active, confident women who pursue satisfaction on their own terms—such as the protagonist of “Ice Cream,” who unabashedly enjoys her dessert. Axell’s provocative paintings challenge artistic conventions while also exhibiting a liberated, playful spirit characteristic of the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
What are your thoughts about Facebook’s decision to remove this image?"
Commentators expressed frustration with Facebook's approach to content moderation, one writing “If this is "suggestive" then we're in trouble,” while another pointed out: “If this is "offensive", then I would really like to stop seeing pictures of women in thongs, bent over.”
Facebook, perhaps embarrassed by the public criticism, decided to allow the museum's second post to remain undeleted.