Library’s on-off-on ‘Freedom of the Press’ exhibit

Responding to complaints from library patrons that two images were too graphic and inappropriate, Foxborough’s Boyden Public Library recently took down an art poster exhibit entitled “Freedom of the Press.”

The exhibit – minus the offending posters – was rehung three days later on Sept. 22 following more complaints that the library was censoring an art show, especially one that was designed to showcase censorship and other threats to press freedom.

“There was a misunderstanding, and the situation has been resolved,” said Manuel Leite, the library director.


But Stephen Lewis, who organized the art show as one of many he has put together from his vast collection of political art posters, said he was still upset over what he called the “absolutely ironic” actions of a library censoring an exhibit about censorship.

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“I was really surprised by the entire event, as I have been exhibiting, sometimes controversial, posters for 14 years at approximately 80 public libraries around the state, and appreciated how libraries are very good at protecting freedom of speech,” said Lewis, a Malden resident and former labor activist.

He said he hoped press coverage of the incident “will help dampen efforts to try to censor things like this [and] help strengthen free speech.”

The approximately 30 posters in the Foxborough exhibit came primarily from the organization “Journalists Without Borders” in Paris. The show also included the poster from the movie “Spotlight” about the Globe’s investigation of sexual abuse by priests.

One of the pro-press freedom posters that drew complaints showed a doctored photo of Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gesturing with a bent arm and clenched fist, an obscene gesture in some cultures. The caption, in French, says that without freedom of the press, there is no counterpower.


The other poster showed a body sprawled in front of a concrete wall and dark stains on the concrete ground, with the words, in French, “Ink must flow wherever blood runs.”

Leite said he had “numerous” complaints about the posters and contacted the library’s board of trustees, who voted to have the exhibit removed. A compromise was reached to take down only the two posters, Leite said, after he spoke with Lewis.

“Being a director, I need to worry about the community,” Leite said. “No matter if it’s a book, magazine, or artwork, I need to take every question or complaint seriously.”

Leite said Lewis has exhibited previously at the library and is welcome to do so in the future.

“Freedom of the Press,” which originally went up Sept. 5, was scheduled to end on Sept. 28.

Johanna Seltz can be reached at