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Outrage at ads is a knee-jerk reaction

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Letters

It is perhaps not surprising that the Carpet Foundation's advertisements have provoked such venom from some of your readers (see Letters, AJ 11.5.00), if one understands the fact that our culture, far from enjoying freedom of thought, is in fact governed, to a certain extent, by taboo and prejudice.

What is surprising is that architects, who one usually takes to have higher than average critical visual intelligence, should react, knee-jerk fashion, in the same way as the rest of the baying mob.

A misogynist may describe the image of the beautiful girl in the advertisement as 'smut'. A pornographer even might wish to interpret a roll of carpet as a phallus. But study the image carefully - is her nakedness offensive? I do not think so. The expression of allure on her face could possibly be read as sexual, but the attitude posed by her body is not.

The advertisement for Fakro Roof Windows, on the back of this week's AJ, which also depicts a beautiful woman, this time clothed, is no more or less sexually exploitative than that of The Carpet Foundation.

There are, of course, any number of parties who would wish to exploit an issue relating to the human body for their own vested interest - and Women in Architecture is itself showing that it is no exception.

The real agenda here however rests on the way in which we now choose to value the Figurative Image.

When Women in Architecture selects premises for its headquarters, I think I have the perfect location: it would be in the British Medical Association building in the Strand, designed by Charles Holden in l908.

At second floor level, and in a band framing every window of the facade, Eric Gill sculpted an extraordinary series of stone caryatids, which was once one of the twentieth century's most successful examples of art combining with architecture in the public realm. The statues were naked figures and, if you wished to see them in this way, explicit.

In 1937, when the government of Southern Rhodesia bought the building, it systematically smashed off the genitalia, the breasts, and even an unborn child from the front of the figures, finding the expression of sexuality 'inappropriate'.

The building can be seen to this day, its vandalised human forms like ghosts eerily hugging the surface.

It stands majestically as a perfect monument for Philistines and haters of the Carpet Foundation's advertisements everywhere!

Natasha Clarke, London SW1X

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