Censorship of David Replica’s Manhood Stirs Controversy in Dubai

At the Expo 2020 Dubai, the age-old acronym VIP has taken on a whole new meaning: Very Important Penis. Censorship allegations are stirring a scandal in the Italian Pavilion, where stone slabs are hiding the stones of a massive 3D-printed David replica for everyone but VIPs and diplomats.

“David” at the Italian Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. Photography by Giuseppe Cacace

Perched nude and contrapposto at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, Michelangelo’s David is widely regarded as a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture. Visitors to Expo 2020 Dubai now have the chance to see a 3D-printed reproduction of the chiseled marble statue, but only from the shoulders up. The replica stands 23 feet tall within the Italian pavilion’s octagonal two-story gallery, but only diplomats and VIPs will have exclusive access to the pavilion’s lower floor—and unimpeded views of David’s undercarriage.

Italian media is decrying the decision. “When the statue was uncovered and seen by the Emiratis, there was enormous embarrassment,” an anonymous Italian source told La Repubblica. “We even considered putting underpants on him or changing the statue, but it was too late.” Art critic Vittorio Sgarbi describes it as “an unprecedented, unacceptable, intolerable humiliation” made in “deference to Islamic tradition.” While not stated outright, it’s believed that artistic director Davide Rampello reckoned with concerns over showing the heroic male nude in front of conservative Emiratis.

Rampello denied the allegations of censorship. According to him, the decision was purely functional—to allow visitors to see David from eye level, a vastly different and more personal perspective than what tourists typically enjoy in Florence. An Emirati tour guide, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to mind: “We look at nudity as something which shouldn’t be displayed but in practice, when it comes to art, I feel people are opening up to it.”

Image courtesy Dubai Expo 2020

The censored David will be on display in the Italian Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai until March 31, 2022.

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