An exhibition for Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography, Flora draws the connection between Mapplethorpe’s controversial portraiture and his floral photographs.
The homoeroticism in Robert Mapplethorpe’s explicit portraits spawned a controversial legacy for his work, serving as a factor in debates on public funding for visual arts in the 1980s. These debates are credited as having ruined federal government support for artists, and Mapplethorpe’s body of work and the controversies which follow it have sparked hefty debates on obscenity and freedom of speech in displayed artwork. Mapplethorpe’s floral photographs both instigate and quell such controversy by skirting around the literal depiction of the human form while remaining suggestive.
In Flora, Mapplethorpe’s controversial portraits are used to contextualize his floral photographs, drawing parallels between the human form and the floral form. The overlay of flowers on the human form provides a visual metaphor for Mapplethorpe’s thought process to supplement the exhibition narrative. The exhibition catalog allows readers to remove the floral photography to view Mapplethorpe’s uncensored portrait photography. The overlay of photos allows the viewer to analyze the way that beauty inherent to plant life mirrors the beauty of the human form.
While experiencing Flora, the viewer is faced with a debate on the acceptability of artwork which is explicit in nature. This allows every viewer to internally put themselves through the controversies of Mapplethorpe, his supporters, and his dissenters.
The exhibition space censors Mapplethorpe's portraiture by suspending his floral photographs so that they obstruct the nude forms when viewed frontally. Guests are invited to walk around the suspended photographs to view the portraits in their original form.
The exhibition catalog contains narrative about Mapplethorpe's life and career. Tabs with the floral photographs can be pulled back to reveal the original photo underneath, allowing viewers to interact with the censored photograph collages.
The exhibition poster placed outside of the museum and around SCAD facilities contains a photo collage created with Mapplethorpe's self portrait, hinting that Mapplethorpe uses his floral photography to relate to his own human experience.