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Supreme Court: Helsinki police wrong to force elderly naked woman to cover up in art show

Finland's highest court has ruled that Helsinki police had no legal grounds to demand that an artist cover up his nude model in an outdoor live performance art exhibit in 2014.

ceci nest pas_mon corps
Image: Willem Popelier

The Supreme Administrative Court said that Helsinki police violated the law when it forbade Dutch artist Dries Verhoeven from featuring an elderly woman to perform nude in an art exhibit a few years ago.

On Tuesday the Supreme Administrative Court said that there were no legal grounds for the police to ban the show.

The court said the police did not have the right to prevent the show from taking place in advance, emphasising that freedom of expression can be limited only under exceptional circumstances.

Decision overturns district court ruling

The exhibit - Ceci n’est pas mon corps (This is not my body) - was part of the international Baltic Circle theatre festival.

When the piece was performed in other cities, the 83 year-old woman was entirely nude.

Wearing only the mask of a younger woman on her face and high heels on her feet, the woman was ensconced in a glass box which was placed near the Lasipalatsi (Glass Palace) building in the heart of the city.

But before the exhibit could open in Finland, Helsinki police - citing public morality - told the exhibit's producers that the woman needed to be covered up.

Slightly patronising

The show was produced by local theatre organisation Q-teatteri, which appealed the police's decision, but Helsinki District Court sided with the police and the group decided to go on with the show with the woman wearing underwear.

"An image that is vulnerable and honest is made suspicious by a policeman who - without getting any phone call from anyone in Helsinki saying 'I feel provoked' - decides that the Finnish people would have a major problem seeing the nudity of an 83 year-old lady," Verhoeven said at the time of the controversy.

"That's slightly patronising, I think that a policeman thinks that for you, decides for you, that you would be provoked by an image that I think is more beautiful than provoking."

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