Madres Paralelas (Parallel Mothers)
Artist: Pedro Almodóvar and Javier Jaén
Date of Action: August 2021
Confronting Bodies: Instagram
Description of Artwork: The poster, circulated online via social media, advertises Pedro Almodóvar's movie Madres Paralelas (Parallel Mothers). Designed by Javier Jaén, the work centers on a black-and-white image of a lactating nipple, intended to look like a crying eye. Against a popping red background with bold pink text in all-caps, the poster is clearly a work of art.
The Incident: The image was removed from Instagram in conflict with its own policies permitting artistic nudity (with the notable exception of photography). A Facebook-owned service was responsible for censoring the posts.
Results of Incident: Instagram reversed its decision and allowed the poster to be displayed on its platform. To the press, the company stated that they “make exceptions to allow nudity in certain circumstances, which includes when there’s clear artistic context. We’ve therefore restored posts sharing the Almodóvar movie poster to Instagram, and we’re really sorry for any confusion caused.”
Although Instagram's final decision acknowledged the need for a kind of exception for posts that have "clear artistic context," the company notably seems to only apply to well-known work (such as Almodóvar's), as many artists who post works with with photographic / lens-based nude images continue to be suppressed on the platform.
The artists behind Madres Paralelas (Parallel Mothers) believe the original error Instagram committed in censoring their work should have never been made, and is reflective of fundamental flaws with the platform's technology, irrespective of their ultimate reversal.
“This is probably the first image I saw when I was born,” Jaén remarked. “A company like Instagram tells me my work is dangerous, that people shouldn’t see it, that it’s pornographic. How many people are they telling that their body is bad, that their body is dangerous? They say their technology can’t differentiate the context. I don’t care. Change your technology then.”
Almodóvar wrote: “Many thanks to all of you who have supported the ‘Parallel Mothers’ poster, to those of you who have posted it more than once, to those of you who have debated the need for a sanity at the sight of a female nipple, and to those of you who have talked about it in the media. You have gotten the minds behind the algorithm that decides what is obscene and offensive to backtrack and allow the poster to circulate freely. It is your victory, a great victory. You must be alert before the machines decide what we can do and what we cannot do. I have always relied on the kindness of strangers, but as long as they are human. An algorithm is not human. No matter how much information the algorithm has, it will never have a heart or common sense. Thank you all, again. Hopefully the movie lives up to your expectations.”