ENCINITAS — Months after San Diego artist Elena Karavodin received the exciting news that the City of Encinitas wanted to showcase her oil paintings for a public display, she was heartbroken to learn the city cited 11 of her artworks for obscenity and removed them from the exhibition.
Just before the COVID-19 pandemic, Karavodin, who was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Encinitas, was invited by Brigid Parsons, the city’s former art program assistant, to submit some examples of her work to be considered for a display in one of the city’s public buildings.
“They gave me a call back and let me know they wanted my stuff to be hung and that made me really happy,” Karavodin told The Coast News. “I had submitted some examples of my work to them and also a link to my website so that they were able to get a full feel for my style and vibe.”
After being told she would need upwards of 20 pieces to be shown inside the Encinitas Community Center, Karavodin began her diligent work of preparing pieces for the display.
Just as Karavodin was finishing in March of 2020, she received word from the city that they would be postponing the display as public buildings began to shut down due to the coronavirus.
“I think I got the call in March of this year that they told me that they were ready to hang up everything as long as everything was ready on my end and the show would start June 15,” Karavodin said.
Sometime between late April or early May of this year, Karavodin was finally asked to hang her pieces just before the community center doors opened to the public again.
Karavodin arrived and was helped by two members of the city staff in hanging the art, both of whom expressed their pleasure with the pieces.
“They actually really liked all the pieces,” Karavodin said.
So it came as a surprise to Karavodin when she received a call saying there was a problem with some of her artwork.
The call was from Assistant City Manager Jennifer Campbell, then serving as the director of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department, who expressed concerns with the art.
“She went ahead and listed all the different paintings they had issues with and the reasons why and asked me to take them down,” Karavodin said. “And I was pretty shocked. There’s some edgy stuff in there but I was a little confused.”
Some of the reasons given by the city included a disturbing title (“I did a bad thing…”), hand on skirt (“Time Stops”), smoking (“Sneaking Out”), nipple shapes under bikini (“Beneath the Surface”), pornographic title (“Playboy Mommy”), offensive words (“Rumors” and “Bubba and Hobbes”), inappropriate clothing (“Treat Yourself”) and guns (“That’s Enough!” and “Remains of the Day”), among others.
According to Karavodin, Campbell suggested she paint some different pieces for the display, an impossible task for Karavodin with the debut just one month away.
The following day, Encinitas Art Program Director Jim Gilliam contacted Karavodin, asking her to change several of the titles of her pieces because they were either pornographic or suggestive, Karavodin said.
Karavodin insisted that changing the titles impacted the meaning of the work and ultimately removed the 11 pieces, all of which can be found on Karavodin’s website along with the reasons given for their removal.
She noted that one of the censored pieces entitled “I did a bad thing…” is still being used to promote her exhibition on the city’s website.
Travis Karlen, the new director of Encinitas Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts, told The Coast News that under normal circumstances, the department will look at every piece scheduled to be hung in public buildings.
However, following a year-long delay due to the pandemic, Karavodin’s works had not been reviewed.
“When we looked at the pieces we deemed that because it was a public facility that was going to have summer camps in it with children we deemed a few of them just not appropriate for that type of atmosphere,” Karlen told The Coast News. “Normally we are a little more comprehensive because we are open and we have the staff there that are looking at that. This time we looked at it after all the artwork was already up.”
Roughly half of Karavodin’s paintings are still on display at the Encinitas Community Center through August 5 and the artist will also be attending a free reception at the center later this month.
“It’s about half the show so I don’t feel like it’s a total representation of my voice but it is still my work and I’m still going to be there no matter what,” Karavodin said.
In addition, Karavodin is displaying the censored art pieces concurrently at the ArtHatch Arts Complex in Escondido through August 5.
“They are a great gallery, I’ve worked with them for over 10 years. They are very supportive and they were happy to take them,” Karavodin said. “I’m trying to have a sense of humor about it rather than going to the dark side. I figure I get two shows now, so lucky for me. I would have preferred to have them all together but that’s OK.”
While Karavodin has taken a glass-half-full approach to the situation and does not express outright anger over the city’s decision to request the artwork be taken down, she is concerned with what this could mean in the future for artists hoping to express their voices.
“I think it’s something bigger and I think it’s something culturally that we’re dealing with in this moment of political correctness and trying not to hurt anybody’s feelings. I think sometimes we take it just a little too far and with art that sometimes can be a dangerous thing,” Karavodin said.
In addition to the reception for Karavodin’s artwork inside the Encinitas Community Center at the end of the month, there will be a reception for her censored works displayed at ArtHatch from 6 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, July 10.