Cincinnatus

2015-03-11T08:27:58+00:00 March 11th, 2015|

This week is Book Week at Belt. We’ll be swaying from our traditional formula and sharing with you samples from some of our print publications, including a sneak peek at an upcoming release.

Today we’ve got a taste of southern Ohio with a piece from The Cincinnati Anthology.

Illustration by Aaron Delamatre
Text By Zan McQuade

When we set about assembling The Cincinnati Anthology, we were looking for all different impressions of the city: the loving, the brutal, and the honest. We knew we’d publish some things that would ruffle some feathers by what they had to say about this city, but we honestly never knew how much controversy could be caused by a cartoon drawing of a statue.

It happened before the book was even published. On the day that the corrected proofs of The Cincinnati Anthology were due back to the printer, the designer and I were taking a breather from going over the pages outside his apartment building in the warm April sun when I received a message from our publisher, Anne Trubek. Apparently, someone at the printers had decided they didn’t want to print our book. Their decision came down to a drawing in the final pages in which a statue of Cincinnatus is depicted freeing himself from his plinth and shedding his robes, revealing the little cartoon statue’s little cartoon penis. A kerfuffle over a cartoon. We were in shock: it was a cartoon of a statue, without fig leaf, sure, but a cartoon nonetheless.

Cincinnatus-01I called Anne and we had a flabbergasted conversation about what to do next. We could take out the Cincinnatus piece and go ahead with our pub schedule as planned, but both of us had the strong conviction to leave it in. We briefly considered humorous creative solutions such as a little “CENSORED” block in Latin over Cincinnatus’s exposed bits, but that felt like a cop out. We didn’t want to be censored, and we all felt strongly that we should stick to that instinct. So we found a new printer.

Cincinnatus-02For a book about Cincinnati, this was the only decision I felt we could make. This city was once notorious for its censorship: in 1990, a case against the Contemporary Arts Center involving its exhibit Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment drew national attention. The museum was charged with obscenity for displaying photographs some considered pornographic, and although a jury later found the museum and its director, Dennis Barrie, not guilty, the city developed a reputation for being unfriendly to art. Worse than that: “Cincinnati” and “art” in the same sentence became synonymous with censorship.

Cincinnatus-03But this city has changed, and one of the main intentions of this book was to focus on those changes. Months before we published our anthology, Patti Smith visited the Contemporary Arts Center with her exhibit The Coral Sea, itself a memorial to Robert Mapplethorpe and his art. It was nearly 25 years after his work caused the initial controversy in our city, and when I spoke to her briefly at the exhibit, we talked about how important it was for her to bring Mapplethorpe back to this city. She agreed that Cincinnati seemed to her to have changed, enough to be ready to accept his art.

And in that spirit, we decided not to bend.

Cincinnatus-04The printers who had wanted to pull the Cincinnatus piece weren’t even from Cincinnati, but the history of censorship in this city made it even more important for us to stick to our guns. Or penises, as it were. Cincinnatus became our mascot, as the underlying message of the strip was true to the deeper meaning of the book: Cincinnati had begun to shrug off the robes of its censorious past, loosen itself from its plinth, and make room for any of us who were ready for it: radical artists, free thinkers, liberals and conservatives alike.

Aaron Delamatre is from the Show-Me State and remains terribly afraid of everything that he cannot see. After graduating from the Art Academy of Cincinnati, he managed the theater group Art & Drama Club, for which he wrote and directed five plays. He has since had exhibitions of drawings, paintings, and sculptures, constructed larger-than-life puppets, and designed a couple of games. These days he mostly lies around reading comics … and sometimes he writes and draws them too.

Zan McQuade is the editor of The Cincinnati Anthology. 

The Cincinnati Anthology, along with other Belt publications, art and beyond can be purchased here: http://beltmag.com/shop/.

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3 Comments

  1. pj March 11, 2015 at 9:47 am - Reply

    I lived and wrote in Cincinnati for a couple of years (1980 to 82) and thought then that it was a town with a rule book: Here’s who we like, here’s who we don’t. Its censorship/uptightness seemed then to be part of the fabric of the city. I hope that is not true anymore, but I suspect it is still not a city where it’s good to be too different.
    It really likes itself–compared to my hometown, Cleveland, which until really recently, has hated itself through and through.
    And despite Cincinnat’s close-mindedness (a pretty giant flaw), there was a lot to like, from a visual and neighborhood point of view. The hills, the river and the age of the city–its southerness, even–were appealing, The hills create distinct neighborhoods. It’s pretty; in fact, when I was living there, without any prompting, people would write letters to the editor to simply rave about how beautiful it was.
    It’s not fair to judge a city by how it seemed three or four decades ago, but your penis-censorship story made me recall the reign of Prosecutor Simon Leis and the way people in Cincinnati used to proudly point out that if you wanted a hooker, you had to cross the river into Newport, Ky.

    • Kendall March 11, 2015 at 1:41 pm - Reply

      pj,

      The city has changed drastically since you were last here, apparently. It’s changed drastically since my partner and I moved here a few years ago. We were originally thinking it a short stopover while she got her graduate degrees before we moved back to our typical progressive haunts (we had just come from Burlington VT, after living in Los Angeles for many years.) We did not think Cincinnati would be friendly to us as artists that work in a very fringy medium (short new opera) with sometimes out there subject matter (incest, the housing bubble, the internal politics of gay bars, etc..,) and not always crowd friendly music, but we’ve found the city welcoming, albeit only slowly taking the next step to being openly supportive of the new and different. By this I mean that they no longer censor as they had in the past, but they’ve only recently started to encourage more radical art through patronage and grant support. We’re actually able to premiere pieces here that are failing to get support in NYC for being too risky (for instance, one about a former porn star and includes some frank discussion about the anatomical preparation for her roles.) Encouraged by this local support, we’ve decided to continue to make a go of it here, for now (it helps that it’s so affordable,) and I can actually feel that I can relate with what I see of Cincinnatus’ journey above.

      Also, as a resident of what’s probably Cincy’s most notorious prostitution zone, I can definitely assure you that there’s no longer any need to cross the river. Not that there’s any more pride in this fact, than there was before. There’s definitely room for a lot more progress in the city on several fronts, but at least it’s tangibly making that progress.

    • Zan McQuade March 11, 2015 at 3:14 pm - Reply

      If the source of the censorship had been a Cincinnati company, I might be worried, but based on how Cincinnati has embraced the arts in the years since I’ve lived here, I’m less concerned now than I was years ago. (Though truth be told, I’m drawing a blank on an instance when the city has really been tested along these lines in the past decade.) I’m sure there are still many uptight and closed-minded elements, as there are in any city, but they are now being balanced by a healthy crowd of people who believe that new ideas are worth at least considering, that art should be allowed to provoke, that differences can be celebrated, and that the dialogue about these topics is worth having.

      (And I’m not surprised to hear that Cincinnati’s beauty has always inspired letters; I’m inspired to write about it nearly every day.)

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