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University removes poem from wall after students complain it’s sexist

The poem depicted a ‘classic patriarchal art tradition,’ students claimed

A Berlin university has removed a poem from one of its walls after students complained that it was sexist and “reminiscent of sexual harassment.”

The poem, “avenidas,”  by poet Eugen Gomringer, was placed on a facade of the school several years ago, according to DW.

Translated from Spanish, the poem reads: “Avenues / Avenues and flowers / Flowers / Flowers and women / Avenues / Avenues and women / Avenues and flowers and women and an admirer.”

Students agitated against the poem and asked the school to remove it, claiming that the work “not only reproduces a classic patriarchal art tradition in which women are exclusively the beautiful muses that inspire masculine artists to creative acts, it is also reminiscent of sexual harassment, which women are exposed to every day.”

Following the outcry, the university voted to erase the poem, settling on a policy of “[painting] lyrics from a new poetry prize winner every five years” rather than leaving Gomringer’s poem up permanently, according to The Local.

From The Local‘s report:

Gomringer immediately criticized the university’s decision, describing it as “an encroachment on the freedom of art and poetry.”

The 93-year-old told the German Press Agency (DPA) that he reserves the right to take legal action.

The German Cultural Council, an umbrella organization for 250 federal cultural associations, described itself as “shocked” by the decision.

Olaf Zimmermann, managing director of the Cultural Council, told DPA, “I would never have thought it possible for a university that is itself a beneficiary of freedom of art and science to trample on this right in such a way.”

The controversy first attracted international attention last year when the German PEN Centre and the Culture Council warned that erasing the poem amounted to censorship.

The university defended its decision on Tuesday. University rector Uwe Bettig said they were demonstrating “a clear commitment to art”.

During renovation in the autumn, a text by last year’s prizewinner Barbara Köhler is to be painted onto the wall instead. In five years’ time, there will be another change.

At the end of the last year, The Local reports, a majority of the university’s students voted against having the poem up on the facade.

Read the report here.

MORE: Professor: ‘The English language is sexist’

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