A thin line between art and obscenity: Gigi and Bella Hadid in Vogue

Farah Ali-Ahmad
Staff Writer

There’s a fine, blurry line between genuine art and mere obscenity. Who gets to decide what is obscene and what is art when art is known to be subjective? Who and what sets a definition for obscenity that can be held out as universal? Is it law and censorship? Or is it rather what can be thought of as an attack towards values and sanctity?

Throughout history, many pieces have been perceived as obscene in their context, only to be seen as genuine art today. Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgement” is just one example.  

The discussion of art versus obscenity often occurs when nudity is included. When looking at a certain photograph or painting, it is not always easy to decide whether to call it art or describe it as obscene.

In the end, things are not as simple as putting art and obscenity on opposite sides. It is not a simple dichotomy. Things can differ from one person to another, and can change based on the values held by the people involved and the audience reached.

One such recent dilemma included the Hadid sisters, Bella and Gigi, who posed naked and close to one another for a British Vogue shoot by photographer Steven Meisel.

This picture fueled controversy all over social media. The perception and values that people usually link to sisterhood were challenged by this photograph. Many took to social media to express their discomfort towards the picture:

“Really disappointed with @BritishVogue ‘s uncomfortable image of @GiGiHadid and @bellahadid. These sisters are doing so well in their careers only for Vogue to sexualize a sibling relationship in the most creepy and non-artistic way. Would you ever put two famous brothers naked,” tweeted @_ami1010, insinuating that the photograph held a sexist message.

“Everyone is so right on both counts. First, I don’t like this trend of models posing naked when it is supposed to be about fashion, i.e. clothing! Secondly it is definitely inappropriate to have sisters posing naked together,” tweeted @Thefashiomister

“No. Just no. This isn’t fashion. It’s not art. Suggestive, naked and with incestuous undertones? That’s porn. And you are old enough to know better, Edward,” tweeted @baseline_babe, addressing the newest British Vogue Editor-in-Chief.

Others expressed their disagreement with such views as they defended the artist’s work and expressed their discontent with such over-dramatic reactions.

Considering that art is a completely subjective topic, who gets to say whether this photograph was closer to art or obscenity?

The picture might indeed be at first sight shocking and weird, but to go as far as calling it obscene would be simplistic, as it cannot be thrown in the same category as repulsive and sexually offensive pieces.

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