A school has refused to display a sixth former’s intimate artwork depicting a mother breastfeeding her child for fear it may offend Muslims during Ramadan.
Tapton Secondary School in Sheffield, South Yorks., told 18-year-old Martha Armitage that her A-Level work would not be used in a room which is now being used as a prayer room for the duration of the religious period.
But Martha has hit out at the decision because she is proud of her beautiful, intricate work, which took 15 hours to create, and she wants it to be shown.
The student, who turned 18 last week, said: “As usual breastfeeding is being depicted in a sexual way. Why are people thinking it is sexual?
“My school should see my paintings as normalising breastfeeding. The more it is seen then the more acceptable it will be.
“I was breastfed as a child, as were my three brothers, and I don’t see anything wrong with it.
“It was only a couple of years ago, when my brother and sister-in-law had their first child, that I realised there seemed to be a lot of fuss about it.
“In my family breastfeeding is normal, I’m flabbergasted people disagree.”
Martha, who works part-time in a cafe, chose her subject of Mother and Baby after being given four choices for her A Level finals.
Her sister-in-law, Kim Houton, 20, had given birth to her second child, Ivy, who is now five months old.
Martha took photographs of Kim and Ivy together, with Kim happy to take her top off to show the intimacy between a mother and her newborn baby.
Martha, who lives in Sheffield, then took the photos into the exam room with her, where her work was produced over four three hour exam sessions.
Her family, including her dad, Alex, 44, who is an art teacher, and is head of his department, and mum, theatre nurse Mandy, 43, are immensely proud of what she has produced.
Martha says was not even informed by the school of the decision, instead she noticed her work was not on display when she went to the school to collect her prom tickets.
She said: “I went to speak to the art technician because I wanted to see my artwork, I hadn’t seen it since I’d submitted it for my A-level.
“The technician told me the artwork wasn’t going on display at all because it includes breasts and it’s Ramadan.
“I was just really really shocked. I didn’t know what to say. I left the school and when I went home I told my mum about it, she sent an email to the school.
“In their reply, they spoke about not having the artwork on display in the conference room which was going to be used as a prayer room.
“But I was told by the technician that my artwork wasn’t going to be displayed anywhere.
“In any case, I don’t understand why it’s offensive. Muslim pupils at my school have told me they’re not offended by it. I don’t understand why the school were jumping to conclusions – they’re just being overly sensitive.
“The school think it’s respecting the tolerance of Muslims during Ramadan because my pictures show nipples, but if I showed a baby being fed by bottle it would be fine, they are promoting the wrong thing.
“They are censoring my work because it involves a bit of nudity. Why are they looking at the painting for the nipple? And not the concept of a mother bonding with her baby?”
Martha‘s mother Mandy sent an email to the school complaining and received a reply from the Art and Design subject leader.
It read: “Martha was not told that her work was not being displayed. She was told that her work was no longer in the conference room because the room is, during Ramadan, being used as a prayer room; this does not display (in my view) censorship, but rather respect and tolerance.”
Martha‘s four paintings show a mother cradling her baby, another breastfeeding from front-on, another breastfeeding from the side, and another shows a mother holding her child to her naked breast – something that is crucial in the first months of baby bonding.
She said: “I have Muslim friends who are also outraged. They say it has nothing to do with Ramadan.
“If it was about distraction there should not be any artwork displayed in there. The pieces that don’t have nipples are allowed to be displayed.”
Martha took A Levels in art, theatre studies and English language.
She is a keen artist with an interest in artists and galleries, she hopes to go on to do an art foundation course and then on to art college.
For now, she would like the school to change their decision.
She said: “I would like my work to be displayed. My friends at the school are really supportive and want to see my work. I feel disheartened because I put a lot of time and effort into it.
“They’re making decisions on behalf of a culture they don’t understand. The Muslims I have spoken to are not offended by what I have created.
“It’s a shame this has happened. I have had a great time at the school and I like the art department and the teachers and to leave on this note is quite sad.”
A statement from Claire Tasker and David Dennis, joint heads at Tapton School, said: “Tapton School is an inclusive school.
“Our mission statement is ‘Value everyone, care for each other and achieve excellence’. Martha’s work is beautiful and she is rightly proud of it.
“Equally, we teach our students to be strong, articulate and to stand up for what they believe in so we admire her tenacity but there is some misunderstanding and misrepresentation in what she is sharing via social media.
“We have 45 students studying post 16 Art. This amounts to a huge number of finished pieces that we display all over the school.
“We do not limit subject matter choice or censor finished pieces. We do not have the space to display all pieces at all times.
“Pieces by five students are currently displayed in our small Conference Room (located on the administration corridor in school). The room is used for meetings, as an exam space and also as a prayer room at lunchtimes.
“We made the decision (as it was during Ramadan) to not put the images of breast feeding into this room.
“The pieces are actually on display in the Finance Office which is frequented by far more staff and students on a daily basis. Before that they were on display in our Art rooms and admired by all. We have invited Martha to come
into school to discuss her concerns – this is always the better way forward.
“Furthermore, we are proud to be an inclusive school for both students and staff and are somewhat frustrated by the misrepresentation of Tapton as a place of work in this story.
“For example, we actively support mothers who have returned to work but wish to continue to breastfeed.”