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Richard Prince courts controversy; subject criticizes using photo without permission

Artist Richard Prince has yet again courted controversy with his new exhibition after one of the subjects of the works claimed that her image was used without consent.

Richard Prince is currently having an exhibition titled “New Portraits” at the Museum of Contemporary Arts Detroit (MOCAD). The exhibition is a collection of various Instagram images, scaled large and put on canvas, along with their original captions. Prince has been promoting the exhibition for days, sharing the images on social media.

However, things soon turned sour when one of the subjects, Zöe Ligon, objected to the exhibition. Based in Detroit, Ligon is a sex educator and owner of a sex toy shop. According to Ligon, she was not asked or informed before her image was used as a part of the exhibition.

When it came to their notice, MOCAD members invited Ligon to have a discussion over the issue. They told her that if she wants, her image could be taken down. However, Ligon insisted that all the images, apparently taken in a similar manner (without consent of owners) should be taken down. MOCAD declined this, citing that they do not support censorship of art.

Artist Richard Prince in 2014

However, Ligon is still determined to bring the issue to the public notice. According to her Instagram post, in her work as a sexual educator, ‘consent’ had been an important concept. By using images of others without their permission, their consent in a public forum has been violated. She also said that as a sex abuse survivor, she posted ‘sexy selfies’ of her on Instagram to reclaim her sexuality. “To see my image on the walls of MOCAD feels as though a picture I’ve taken of myself to reclaim my sexual body is being used to violate me all over again”, she said.

Richard Prince is no stranger to controversies. His ‘Portraits’ series was first exhibited in 2014, where similar concerns of ownerships were raised and 5 lawsuits were filed. In 2016, he disowned a portrait of Ivanka Trump, commissioned by her father Donald Trump, and returned the fees.