Ban on topless breast cancer survivors' photos is protested


POSTED: Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A photographer is upset that her artwork of topless breast cancer survivors was banned from display in an exhibit at a Waikiki cafe.

Rita Coury's life-size photographic prints were to be a part of an art exhibit held by Girl Fest Hawaii, a nonprofit organization focusing on awareness of women's issues. ING Direct Cafe, an online bank-cafe at 1958 Kalakaua Ave., offered free gallery space to the group throughout the month.

But bank officials apparently were not aware of the photos until Coury started hanging them at the cafe Monday. She was told by a staff member to take the exhibit down as it might be offensive to customers.

“;I was shocked,”; said Coury.

A compromise was reached between ING and Girl Fest Hawaii to display Coury's artwork during the opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday.

Still, Coury and members of Girl Fest Hawaii remain disappointed about the ban.

ING officials could not be reached for comment, but had sent a written statement to Girl Fest Hawaii explaining their decision to ban the artwork from being a part of the exhibit.

“;Our policy is—all art must be appropriate for all audiences and age groups,”; wrote Cleo Brown, adding that the cafe hosts many elementary school events, one that includes a fund-raiser to be held next week. “;I hope the participating artists understand that we respect all forms of art but as a federal savings bank, we err on the side of caution with all displayed and materials viewed by our customers and guests at the Cafe,”; said Brown.

Coury contends the photos are not exploitative and were done to bring awareness to breast cancer.

“;They're not scary pictures,”; she added. “;Trying to protect kids from breast cancer, we're doing a disservice by not educating them.”;

Coury's five 30-by-40-inch photographic prints are of five women in different stages of breast cancer, from mastectomies to reconstruction.

“;These women basically made it to hell and back,”; she said. “;I think everyone can learn from this.”;

Kathryn Xian, founder of Girl Fest Hawaii, said Coury's artwork sends a powerful message of the epidemic of breast cancer.

While a cure has yet to be found for breast cancer, Xian noted, millions of dollars were spent to develop pills for men to maintain an erection.

“;It's ridiculous,”; she said.

Breast cancer is not something to be ashamed of, and it is definitely not something to be censored, said Xian, whose mother is a breast cancer survivor. “;We're still looking for a venue to hang her artwork. We'll find a way.”;