San Antonio Arts Commission Declines to Rule on Censored Artwork, Kicks Decision Back to City

click to enlarge Screenshot from Xandra Ibarra's 2004 video "La Tortillera." - XANDRA IBARRA
Xandra Ibarra
Screenshot from Xandra Ibarra's 2004 video "La Tortillera."
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to include comment from the City of San Antonio.

Despite being taken up at a meeting Tuesday of the San Antonio Arts Commission, Xandra Ibarra's controversial video artwork Spictacles: La Tortillera remains in limbo.

Ibarra's piece was removed in mid-February from the "XicanX: New Visions" exhibition after City Attorney Andy Segovia deemed it was “obscene content” and inappropriate for display at a public facility. Later that month, the Centro de Artes subcommittee voted unanimously to recommend reinstatement of the piece.

At its meeting Tuesday, the San Antonio Arts Commission decided not to issue a recommendation whether to return the video to the show. Instead, the commission voted to let city officials make that call.

Debbie Racca-Sittre, director of San Antonio's Department of Arts and Culture, was present at the meeting but declined to weigh in.

"How much more deliberation has to take place?" asked Michael Menchaca, who co-curated "XicanX: New Visions" with Suzy González.

"It's been a month since this issue took place, and it's very public now. It's time to make a decision."

"I was so disappointed in the Arts Commission," said San Antonio artist Mark Anthony Martinez, whose work is also included in "XicanX: New Visions."

"They couldn't even make a stand — even within their own committee."

In a statement emailed to the Current, Racca-Sittre said he the vote by the Arts Commission reaffirmed the city’s authority to make the final decision.

"We don’t take this responsibility lightly," Racca-Sittre said. "The standard set for a city run gallery is that artwork needs to be appropriate for general audiences. A video depicting graphic simulation of a sex act, no matter the orientation of the artist, is not appropriate for general audiences."

It went on: "The video was received by the department the day before the exhibit opened. If we would have received the video with sufficient time, the Department of Arts & Culture would have considered connecting the Guest Curators with privately run art spaces in San Antonio to exhibit this work in a companion show, as has been done in the past. This offer still stands."

Although the piece still cannot be viewed at Centro de Artes, "La Tortillera" is available to stream on Vimeo.

Stay on top of San Antonio news and views. Sign up for our Weekly Headlines Newsletter.