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A Gananoque Intermediate and Secondary School student had her special painting removed from an Earth Day-themed exhibition in the front foyer of the school held on Friday, April 21. Skye Hunt’s work — “In Celebration of the Mother” — shows a topless woman rising from the living soil.

She appears proud and strong, a mother looking out over her realm. Her stretch marks crack her stone outer surface to reveal the pure gold beneath, and she has all the marks normal adult women can identify with — hip dips, cellulite, comfortable fleshy rolls, breasts.


It is the inclusion of the woman’s bare breasts that resulted in the removal of the painting.


“Skye Hunt is a talented artist, and this is reflected in her work at school and in the community,” the Upper Canada District School Board replied when asked for its response to the issue. “She has created many art pieces at Gananoque Intermediate and Secondary School that have been featured.

“However, due to the mature nature of her Mother Earth painting, it was not displayed in the front foyer of the school for the one-day exhibition. This area of the school is accessed by all students, including some who are as young as 11 years old.


“The context of the school’s front foyer is different than that of an art gallery. The principal (David Pier) has discussed this with the family to provide clarity on why this piece was not shown in that area of the school.”


Many people, including Skye’s mother, Chantel, were not happy with the decision.


“I couldn’t believe they were trying to segregate her painting,” Chantel Hunt said. “I felt like everybody should be able to see it. There’s nothing wrong about it, and for them to take it down or want to push her into the back so people couldn’t see it really upset me.

“I am so proud — I think that she hit the nail on the head with this Earth Day presentation they were doing at the school, and I think she’s beautiful. I am so impressed with her portrayal of Mother Earth, and I was very upset that they wouldn’t show this in the school.


“If there was anything we could do so that this doesn’t happen again to anyone else, then we would love to do that,” Chantel said.


“I usually work in acrylic paints, and for this piece I really wanted to normalize our ‘flaws,’ as the media calls them — things like stretch marks, hip dips, cellulite, rolls — and breasts in general,” artist Skye Hunt said. “I think it was really important, and when I hear ‘Earth’ I think ‘mother’ and women. Earth is ‘woman.’ I think this piece really helps display that.”

“When I heard about Skye’s painting not allowed in the show at GISS, I was shocked,” Dennis O’Connor, proprietor of the O’Connor Gallery in Gananoque, said. “It’s 2023 and it’s an image of Mother Nature painted for Earth Day. The painting is quite a statement not only on our beleaguered planet but the continued suppression of women. Censoring it is taking yet another giant step back in women’s rights.”


Women have legally been allowed to bare their breasts in Ontario since 1996. Most don’t, but that does not mean they can’t. Also, breast feeding is commonplace.


“This whole notion of bare breasts being socially unacceptable is antiquated,” O’Connor said.


“It’s illegal for them to censor that,” Steve Behal, professional artist and member of the Gananoque Arts Network, said. “Artists have a right to show works of art. It’s about the integrity of art. We fought hard for these rights to artistic freedom. GAN, I believe, will do something in order to make our voices heard as artists. We cannot let this continue. GAN supports Skye in what she’s doing here. Congratulations to her — I am thrilled. She clearly has talent, and she clearly has a message.”

Skye said she has done other works that have apparently not upset the school.


“I have some of my paintings in the TLC (the library) and it’s interesting because some of them have eyeballs,” she said. “There’s blood, organs in the paintings, and they’re in clear sight, and the TLC is used by everyone. All ages are seeing that, but they wouldn’t let this piece of art, which shows a body — a female body with normal flaws. They wouldn’t let me put that up.”


“This puritanical American attitude is thankfully not the norm around the world,” O’Connor said. “Indeed, the Vatican and European countries have normalized nudity in art and public spaces.


“Skye has created a beautiful portrait of a strong female. This young, talented, brave woman has expressed herself honestly and with integrity.


“The school has brought far more attention to her work in not displaying her painting. And perhaps being banned is just what it needed to illustrate just how things have not changed in our schools. Censorship is not progressive.


“O’Connor Gallery is proud to display this in our window. The gallery is exhibiting many nudes, both male and female, from some of the country’s most accomplished artists. She is in excellent company,” O’Connor said.


To see Hunt’s work, visit the O’Connor Gallery on King Street East. It will be in the window until May 9 and later in the gallery.

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