A few years ago, an exhibition meant to explore the role of religion in modern Russia was shut down by a group of Orthodox Christian protesters who were offended by it, without actually seeing any of the artworks. As it turned out, all of the exhibits were quite innocent and inoffensive, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was the right to discuss the role of religion in a modern society. Shut the f*ck up, was the response of fundamentalist crowds. They successfully used mob tactics, and physical violence to prevent visitors’ entering the gallery.
Western human rights groups and artistic communities, including many black artists, said it was unacceptable repression of artistic freedom by the tyranny of Putin. Putin had nothing to do with it directly, except fostering religious nationalism, of course.
In 2002, a terrorist plot to attack a church in Bologna, Italy was foiled by police. The church has a 15th-century fresco showing the Prophet burning in Hell. No Muslim fundamentalist could get offended by it, as to get offended they had to go inside, and that’s something blasphemous in itself. The offense was about the right of a Christian artist (five hundred years as dead) to express opinions about Islam.
International outcry was strong, though not as strong as when a Dutch film director was murdered two years later for expressing his views on the ways women were treated in Somalia in a short film. But, well, the guy was actually killed. Remember Salman Rushdie and the fatwah on him.
In both cases, Western human rights groups and artistic community, including many black artists, said it was unacceptable repression of artistic freedom by Muslim fundamentalists, inspired by Iranian ayatollahs, who, unlike Putin, were directly responsible.
A few days ago, a Barbican gallery was to stage an art exhibition by a South African artist. The show was to feature black actors chained and in cages to depict the horror of slavery.
It was canceled when a crowd of offended protesters blocked the entrance, which was the climax point of their campaign to banish the show.
What was offensive about the show?
The lady, who kicked off the campaign, started her petition with “A piece of work, ‘Exhibit B’, by the controversial white South African Brett Bailey is coming to the Barbican Centre in London this September…”
Wait a second, I am OK with “controversial”, for most art is controversial today, but what has being “white” to do with evaluation of an artwork? If I start criticizing an artist by stating he was “black”, most people would be repulsed so much they wouldn’t read any further. I mean, putting race as the argument of the first order (or any order, for that matter) is racism.
Now, what does the lady have to say next?
“I’m a Black African mother from Birmingham.”
What does sex and motherhood have to do with it all? I am a father of two. Does it mean I am always right against a father of one, in the wrong against a father of three, and immeasurably indebted to a mother of one or more? Or is it simply an expression of certainty that white people should be barred from talking about racism? Isn’t it racism?
The lady’s position is explained in her final press-release. I skip some of the populist mantras that are, actually, 95% of the text.
“The barricading of The Vaults occurred because the Black community refuses to have racism defined for them by wealthy, white liberals.”
Is it OK if racism is defined by poor white conservatives? Or maybe by nationalistic white trash?
I wish Lenin said a just society could not be defined by a German philosopher for Russians. We could skip the communist revolution then. Alas, ideas don’t depend on the race or nationality of their creators, and live their independent lives.
The above is, in fact, the only valid argument against the exhibition (all others being falsified assumptions and misrepresented quotes about the artist and black actors participating in the show).
This argument is, perhaps, best expressed by Lee Jasper, one of the campaign’s most prominent supporters, “Could you imagine a similar show today with Jewish people in gas ovens, lets say produced by a German? No, neither can I.”
This is a funny way of wrenching facts. Were that show to celebrate dying Congolese workers with Belgian soldiers cutting their hands off as punishment for low productivity, perhaps, I could agree with the sentiment. Comparing the deadly Holocaust to a humiliating Human Zoo? No. But even in this comparison there is a further sharpening of cards, because Germans did produce art about “Jewish people in gas ovens”. I could suggest talking to Heinrich Böll, a Nobel laureate in literature, but he died thirty years ago, so…reading some of his books might be a good starting point for further discussion.
I feel I’ve seen this tactics before: among fundamentalist Christians in Russia, among fundamentalist Muslims in the West, and now among anti-racist (and also anti-liberal – do you see a contraction here?) activists. They like getting offended by others having an opinion because those “others” are not of the same colour, financial position, or marital status.
The interesting thing is that deep down these campaigns have nothing to do with the art objects that are used to fuse the bomb. The central idea is getting noticed, going supernova on Facebook, in the press, on TV.
I am sure this is the case now. The Barbican Centre caved in, and canceled the show. The moment when London boroughs start surrendering to Sharia law is not in some distant future. White liberals are great at surrendering to activist groups. Here, I have to congratulate Scotland though: I am surprised it didn’t secede, and excited to find a country where common sense can still beat populism. You don’t see it often nowadays.
Orwell would be curious to see that it is not only war that can be seen as peace, but also anti-racism that can become racism and vice versa.
Disagree with me. Or agree with me. I’d love to hear your view. I welcome all opinions.
Helping people understand Jewish crap, sold as ‘ modern art ‘. Art doesn’t need pseudo intellectuals to explain, it speaks for itself you pitiful loser.
My dear, while you, having sorted out things into Jewish crap and sensible Nazi masterpieces, definitely do not seem to require my assistance, you still need professional help. There are clinics that offer it free in most countries.
Fascinating. What I find intriguing is how I literally don’t allow for people to pull the race card, for three reasons. 1. It should be unnecessary because someone like me should step in before someone of a different race ever needs to use their genetic makeup and use the degree of melatonin, or lack thereof, in their skin as a defense.
2. Some find this to be brash, but as you mentioned about the German artwork, look how quickly we have seen the Jewish population recuperate and move forward. In college I had a German roommate and a Jewish roommate who I don’t even think ever brought it up because they never though about it, so when people, specifically African American’s start bringing up old sins of white men that I’m not even related to. I don’t feel guilty. Not saying it was right, it was terrible. But my third point will make that statement seem fair.
3. Africans took my great great grandfather, a caucasian Irishman, and put him in to indentured servitude which ultimately became slavery working on the sugarcane fields in Barbados until he died before 50. Did most of you even know that there were 10’s of thousands of white slaves under Black owners? Even more poignant, did any of you know that at the peak of the civil war, there were nearly an identical number of Black slave owners as there were White enslaving other Africans? I have yet to meet an African American that knows this FACT, and on a positive example I have only met 2 African Americans and no Whites that have known the fact that the first woman millionaire whats an African American. I was in a cultural deviance class where the proof was brought forward that the African community hides those types of things to stay in the victim position, (Not a factual statement I’m making, just a conversation a tenured professor had with the class).
So, ultimately. In my eyes? What happened is a fact and is not going to change. Ignoring the past leads to repeating the past and repeating the past leads to the same failures we’ve already been through. Those that don’t want to attend don’t have to. But tailoring an experience in order to negate causing emotions? That’s a very primitive way of handling anything. Emotion was first to evolve within the human mental capacity, and reason came next. Look at it this way. My father who is a specialist that operates on the Ear, Nose, and Throat has to go into the operating room and perform surguries that make people pale just at the sight. But he doesn’t see what they see, what he see’s is reason, and what he feels is the emotion derived from that state of reason, not an emotion derived from the disgustingly obese patient on the gurney and how terrifying the situation is as he digs around the Carotid Artery as he searches for the thyroid in 12 lbs. of neckfat.
Another thing the other night I though was interesting was I had the pleasure of sitting down with 2 gentleman who were part of the self driving car project going on at Google, and we had deep discussion for a couple hours at a mutual friends house in Denver. Basically, we all agreed that outside that room our discussion would be offensive to literally EVERY other demographic, but to us there is a real racism against us, but isn’t recognized. A racism against the progression and opportunities for white males in today’s society. Most people scoff, but as a 26 year old white male who is in the early part of his career, I can tell you I have not worked one position where I wasn’t either trained differently or was not treated or given the same resources as the white women, and the men and women of most other races. Now I am a white collar worker so I’m not speaking for blue collar workers, but African American’s we were told by HR sensitivity trainers, have an uphill battle and to treat them fairly. Well what is fair??? What in today’s society do I have that other’s don’t? One of my best friends is a black kid from the hood in Atlanta who went to CU Boulder with me on a full ride for Baseball. He has given all that up and is now going to be delivering babies in the next 8 months as he approaches the end of med school. Was his life easy? No not at all. But once he was in classes he had everything given to him, every moment of professors spare time. He and I both agree in the Spanish class we had together, that his skin color was the reason he got an A, meanwhile I got a B and we both knew I was far more fluent. It’s a reverse racism. But I’m not going to complain, or ask you for anything. As long as America is free? What another man or woman thinks about what I am and should be? Is the smallest most unimportant thing I could think of.
If people stopped focusing on silly things like art exhibits (although it houses controversial material) HISTORY IS CONTROVERSIAL!!!! I’m sorry to if I’m the first to tell everyone this. But I realized in college 30-50^% of all American History was skewed, and I didn’t know the truth. If people want to live in the past, ok, I can’t control you. And it also just leaves one less person striving to create the new world we’re headed towards with globalization. If we never watched the news again, we would all be better off fact. I get AP mobile updates with a 1 line synopsis of a situation, and that is all I need to derive a basic opinion on that subject, I don’t need Katie Couric tearing up as she tells me something is terrible for our youth that is simply not proven or true and is a scare tactic. I try to live above emotion as much as possible and that’s what makes me the phenomenal manager I am. I save emotion for my girl and the bedroom =) Because your and I’s interaction should not be dictated by something as meaningless as the predisposition’s to ideas that cause our brains electrical signals to tell our hypothalamus to build amino acids from basic neuropeptides that result in ecstasy, anger, fury, defensiveness, guilt, and sadness. If your always honest, you know that no matter what the outcome you did the best you could. And that fact has taken me damn far for my age. And so I have a shred of credibility, I have a major in MGMT a minor in Finance, another Major in Neuropsychiatry, another minor in musical Theory/Production, I have been a business consultant since the day I graduated, while also doing sales, I have sold life insurance, business marketing strategies, renewable energy, as well as a few products and methods either I own or co-own with another developer.
I’m just excited for my generation to have control. Bipartisanship will die, and for once I will get the joy of seeing people vote by the issue and making decisions based on reason, not the sheep that vote “left” or ‘right” every time no matter what the issue and change my lifestyle every 4 or 8 years. My final point I’ll leave people with, is I think it’s hilarious how these people that are outspoken about things like the museum exhibit are always pointing the finger saying “that person is intolerant!!!” UHHHHH No, sorry but your the intolerant one not allowing gorwn adults to attend something that noone asked you to be here for or forced you to look at. So go home. =) The hypocrisy is just beyond reasoning with. All I can do with that person is laugh about it, and live my life in a way that honors myself and those around me and the earth which provides all we need to live. Humans have no real reason that we should ever die. Cells don’t have a “die” gene, its stress that kills us. So if you want to slowly kill yourselves stressing out about things unrelated to your existence here and now in this brief moment we call a life time? I pity you.
Thanks for the stimulating article, always a special privilege to get to recognize these things and strengthen my constitution on where I stand on such topics.
Sorry if there’s any misspellings, as of late, I have stopped proofing letters and emails. It’s narcissistic, and that trait is the single most manipulative sickening disease in the American culture today. So I decided to write it as a stream of consciousness and send my letters straight from my brain to your eyes without asking…. what would they want to hear? Everything is more meaningful and I never question if I said the right thing.
Michael, this is, first, a great comment, and not even a comment but a stand-alone post. I am yet to re-read it, for there are many meaningful insights in what you wrote that I’d love to catalogue and research further on. I’ll get back to this post-comment again and again. I am sure I will be using your arguments in my future debates with reverse-racism adepts. Thank you. Thank you so much for sharing you story!
Hey I’m glad you read it. Most people don’t read things longer than a sentence anymore. And thanks for validiating me. As a 26 year old with an “old soul” more random knowledge than I should, and a go get it attitude. I rarely am ever validated and thanked, and as a manager of over 94 people, it’s something I do and love doing.
Thanks for the post that drove me to say those things. And the opportunity to have a good “stream of consciousness” where every word was from the heart not a single one chosen or meant to have an effect that you would react to. If the opposite of narcissistic is altruistic then it was an altruistic response.
oh by the way. I changed all relevant info on this wordpress account for my little project. Beats2Eat is me and I am Michael Murphy =)
People who protest against museum exhibits don’t seem to be the type who visit museums in the first place. Just as I seriously doubt any Fundamentalist in the Middle East has ever even seen a Danish newspaper. Its amazing how people let things infuriate them that shouldn’t even make any difference in their lives.
I don’t know why the Scots are able to laugh at themselves but they do – it is possible to drag up a lot of history regarding Scots that were evicted from their birth land and sold into slavery but I’ve never heard anyone do so. Many of us alive today had grandparents that died in poverty of starvation in the early 1900’s. Those of us who survived were brought up in respect of our fellow humans and with a work ethic. I’m pretty sure that they would be pleased that we became independent capitalists just as they were the independent poor. It was a source of pride of my grandmother who raised four children after her husband died at the age of 27, that she never once asked for poor relief. No one can be given freedom, that is something that you have to grow from the inside whatever your external circumstances. Art that inspires admiration of the human ability to surmount difficulties is perhaps a good topic for this moment. Many people want to prevent others from thinking differently from them and will use violence and intimidation as a means of getting their way but they are missing the point. Open debate not suppression is what moves us forward and the role of Art in this regard is one way to help us confront our own beliefs not others.
I didn’t write what I think of the show (for I obviously missed the chance to see it – thanks to the Black Fundamentalists this time – but I believe you’ve nailed it down. It was a celebration of human ability to overcome the most horrendous things. It was a celebration of Black Power, in fact. If only the Anti-Racist/Racist Fundamentalists were not so shortsighted, they’d see it. Alas, all fundamentalist believers are like that.
Thank you for the great input to this post!
very interesting and well argued presentation. I agree that, whatever the motivation and whatever the context, to define anyone — artist or cel phone salesperson — by their race and their status as procreator is, at best, silly. At worst, it leads — the racism, not the procreation — to the horrors this artist wants to recreate. People seem to think their beliefs give them the right to beat other people up or murder them. Too bad the planet isn’t more interested in using logic. A ‘belief’ is just a prejudice in nice clothes.
Thank you, Austin. Both for your support and build-up to this post. In terms of neuroscience, a belief is the way the brain gets wired up, with certain neural paths burnt into the cortex so deep no logic can beat them. For many their beliefs are logic-resistant, and it takes generations to re-wire brains of nations. Yet, I don’t think we talk about beliefs in this case. I am sure this is a simple desire to get noticed, and “liked”. The easiest way to do this today is to mobilse people with beliefs…
yes agree totally about the wiring. It’s interesting to experience the automatic endorphin release when I see shiny new German cars or in my obsession with baseball. I understand that someone got waaaaay inside my wiring and tweaked it to respond to the Audi or New York Yankees logo. I understand it — but experience it anyway.
Reblogged this on Search Engine Preparation and commented:
In this world there is always a lot of injustice, humiliation, needless deaths, pain, suffering, and others. No one can stop it all. Because when the war ended, this world is not going to be balanced. This world needs antonym for life inside running balanced.
Thank you for your post, which I read with interest. I think that issues as complex and nuanced as those relating to perceived racism in artwork, structural/institutionalised racism in arts policy and practice, and fears about the censorship of artistic freedom, are all bound to (almost inevitably) create divisions and disagreements. As someone who lives in London, signed the petition against the showing of Brett Bailey’s installation in my city, and also who attended numerous protests and the public consultation meeting convened by the Barbican and Nitro – the organisation responsible for recruiting black actors of African descent to perform in the ‘tableaux vivants’ – my view runs counter to almost everything you have documented above. I have detailed all the reasons why I feel Exhibit B deserved to be shut down in the following blog post on my site (Museum Geographies [http://museumgeographies.wordpress.com/] – at http://museumgeographies.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/debates-about-the-war-on-black-bodies-part-3-some-concluding-thoughts-on-the-arts-in-london/), and I would be interested to hear your thoughts. What appears to be missing from you claim that art was “censored” in this case is a consideration of the underlying exclusions (perhaps you might also call them forms of ‘censorship’) that preclude many black artists from having their anti-racist artwork commissioned, endorsed by and shown in high-profile, publicly funded art institutions in the West like the Barbican. The entire exclusionary commissioning process for Brett Bailey’s work was done on the basis of the singular and ill-informed judgement call of a Director of Arts at the Barbican, who did not consider it necessary (or even apposite) to seek diverse, cross-cultural perspectives on Bailey’s proposal, so as to gauge how diverse, multi-ethnic audiences might (potentially) interpret and respond differently to such a sensitive and controversial piece. If anti-racism was at the heart of Bailey’s motivations and intentions for Exhibit B, then surely much more prior consideration of and reflection on – ‘audiencing’ issues (cf. Stuart Hall & Paul du Gay’s ‘circuit of culture’) should also have been at the forefront of his thinking. Just a few alternative perspectives and questions to add to the conversation…
Thank you for your comment, and taking time to write it all up. I love concise logic, so I’ll just reduce your comment to a few lines:
1) You don’t agree with most of my arguments. I don’t think you disagree with my view that murdering Theo Van Gogh was a bad thing to do, so it must be my argument that what was happening at the initiative of a Black African Mother from Birmingam (that’s not me, it’s how she defines herself) is similar to what Muslim or Christian fundamentalists do to silence artists with whom they disagree.
Now, to disagree with this, you need to show me the difference. I am afriad I have not seen it, rather more similarities.
2) You signed the petition because you believe that white curators do a bad job of selecting black artists for exhibitions. Great! Rational logic says you have to sign a petition to white curators to pay more attention to black artists, not the one that banishes a white artists from showing his art.
Or, alternatively, you have to work in black communities promoting the idea of black people becoming art curators and artists.That’s better than any petitions, at least in my book.
You assume the Barbican curator is a white racist. It is an easy way out: you don’t have to do anything, because you can’t for the whole world of white racists is against you. Come on. You live in London and you can’t believe this self-depreciating bullshit.
Greart art, black or otherwise, will get recognised. It just has to be great, to pinch the nerve of the society in novel ways, and thus opening new thinking for the observer.
Thank you for you comment, but please, just be an artist doing great art. Black art can’t get great if all it does is banishing others.