Arca, the experimental Venezuelan producer who’s worked with Kanye West, Björk, and FKA twigs, was permanently banned from Instagram yesterday for the artwork relating to a new single, “Vanity.” The art, created by frequent Arca and twigs collaborator Jesse Kanda, depicts a melting cyborg-looking person with a fairly anatomically correct vag and anus as the focal point.
It’s well documented that Instagram’s nudie policy is often deployed in the service of censoring women’s bodies and, more specifically, a certain type; in one explicit instance, the platform banned photographer Petra Collins for showing just a peek her unshorn bush.
As we’ve frequently seen, Instagram often bans accounts that do not violate their terms. (Collins’ IG was reinstated not long after she wrote this piece.) In that sense, Arca’s is unique in that it actually did violate a clause—“no nudity”—but that doesn’t mean the enforcement of it is not arbitrary and selective, and seemingly related to Instagram’s conservative values rather than, say, protecting the little children from seeing an arguably desexualized, artistic rendition of a person that is not unlike that of an ancient body mummified in ice.
The image is not necessarily a standalone. Similar to the Kanda-created animations in Arca’s videos for “Thievery” and “Sad Bitch,” as well as the cover art to his latest album Xen, Arca told The Guardian that his notion of “Xen” is “a genderless being. It’s about resisting labels and integrating different sides of ourselves. The complicating of one and the other is very fertile, emotionally and creatively.... I think there’s a certain poetry to having your body reflect what you feel inside of you. Perhaps you have a feeling that’s so pure, or overwhelming inside of you that your body disfigures to it—contortions match your confusion.”
The artwork for “Vanity” seems to continue Arca’s exploration of gender, and the typically liquid production implies it, too; on “Vanity,” a warped mountain of gamelan synths clamor over a wisp of space wind that sounds straight from a video game, part of Arca’s fabric as a person and as a producer. (In an email in 2012, he told me “All I play are hidden RPGs.”) It’s a huge song, more of a sound sculpture really; it’s triumphant, melancholy, with the illusion of having an actual physical weight.
The problem with Instagram’s ban in this sense, and in general, is its selective application of context cues. Search through and you can find any number of anatomical renderings of the human body, including internal diagrams of reproductive organs—the exact ones kids across America learn from in 7th, or 11th grade. Sex toys and bare bottoms and vulgar sexualized interpretations of vaginas stay up, too—as well they should—but this artistic interpretation was selected for censorship without warning despite its meaning being perhaps more complicated than hoardes of #belfies. It is also ironic that on a day when much of Twitter revels in full celebratory throes for our first introduction to Caitlyn Jenner, a work by an acclaimed artist exploring questions, limitations, and freedoms of gender is shut down by Instagram. But the more Instagram flouts and selectively interprets its own guidelines, the more transparent the company’s true priorities become: mindless commercialism, adherence to heteronormative mainstream, lack of depth or imagination in the very realm—the visual—that it takes the the bank. Status quo.
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Image via Arca/screenshot.