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Still from Xandra Ibarra’s, Spictacle II: La Tortillera, 2014. Courtesy of the artist.

City of San Antonio Pulls Xandra Ibarra Work from Exhibition over Its “Obscene” Content

San Antonio’s Department of Arts & Culture is facing backlash over its decision to remove a work by El Paso-born, Oakland-based artist Xandra Ibarra hours before the opening of a group exhibition at the Centro de Artes on February 13 over its “obscene” content. In the four-minute video, titled Spictacle II: La Tortillera, 2014, the artist appears as the character La Chica Boom as she performs one of her “spictacles”—her term for “camp spectacles of Mexican and Mexican-American myths that render the colonial gaze laughable.”  

In a statement provided to the San Antonio Express-News, the city claims that the “obscene material” featured in the video “does not align with our community standards.” City Attorney Andy Segovia, who was consulted on the matter, said that representatives from several city departments weighed in before the work was withdrawn. He added that he ultimately supported the decision because of the simulated sex act in the video, which he deemed “too explicit.”  Debbie Racca-Sittre, director of the Department of Arts & Culture, told the daily newspaper that “it was a decision the city had every right to make in a San Antonio-owned space.”

The move has sparked outrage and has led to multiple cries of censorship. A letter sent to San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg from the National Coalition Against Censorship decries the removal of the piece over the “apparent discomfort with its unconventional viewpoint on representations of sexuality and the challenge it presents to gender stereotypes” and argues that the city has raised serious First Amendment concerns. It also claims that citing obscenity is reminiscent of the culture wars of the 1990s and that the work cannot be considered obscene unless the city can “prove that it lacks serious artistic value.” In addition, a petition on change.org that has been signed by nearly 850 people as of Monday morning says that the city’s response is “fundamentally illegitimate, unjust, and deserves reevaluation.”

For Dos Mestizx (Suzy González and Michael Menchaca), the curators of “XicanX: New Visions,” the city’s interference has compromised the show, which features the work of thirty-four artists—including William Camargo, Lisette Chavez, Celeste De Luna, Eric J. Garcia, Nabil Gonzalez, Kalli Arte Collective, Xavier Robles Armas, Robert Martinez, and Jesusa Marie Vargas—and aims to challenge the “previous and existing surveys of Chicano and Latino identity-based exhibitions.”

Members of the city’s arts commission are planning to meet Tuesday morning to discuss the controversy and assess whether they should have handled the situation differently.

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