Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Art Transcending Political Correctness

"Whether this was done out of ignorance or not [an official apology from the university is due] that this piece was approved for display."
"As a Muslim community, we feel greatly offended, concerned and disappointed."
"This has already provoked Muslims and has caused very upsetting reactions, and several students' responses and behaviour [sic] towards this is extremely alarming and is starting to make some students feel unsafe at OCAD."
"This is serious and we do not take it lightly."
Muslim Student Association, Ontario College of Art and Design University
The controversial piece. Twitter
"Why does someone need to disrespect a whole religion and the way of life of billions of people?"
"...The intent does not change the blatant disrespect to our Islamic faith and the objects, places and symbols we hold dear to our heart."
"Picking up customers in my taxi that swear I hate them and want to kill them simply because I am Muslim or having my mother or my sisters followed and abused for wearing the hijab makes me live a certain anxious and protective lifestyle."
OCAD student, part-time taxi driver

"We understood she was speaking from within her own cultural practices and experiences."
"We didn't feel we could put up the work without any information. We've been working with her [the artist] the last couple of days. We've been in discussion."
"So for her, no name and no statement means the work has to come down. [Despite the controversy raging around the work] that doesn't mean we're shutting the dialogue down. The university supports the right to artistic expression."
Natalie Majaba Waldburger, show co-curator, OCAD professor

"We respect the Muslim Student Association has their opinions, and this is an important dialogue around this piece."
"It's a matter of looking at both sides."
Christine Crosbie, OCAD media and communications manager
The Ontario College of Art and Design University in downtown Toronto.Peter J. Thompson/National Post/File
The controversy at the Ontario College of Art and Design University in downtown Toronto emerged as a result of a Muslim art student's statement piece to be hung at the campus for a special show. The piece was untitled and there was no attribution revealing the name of the artist. As for the art piece itself it was a green Islamic prayer mat. Rather different than most such mats in that etched upon the mat was the black outline of a nude woman, recumbent.

It hung among the other exhibits until a complaint was received by the college, which then removed the prayer mat and in its place hung a notice from the curators and show jurors stating: "the intent of the work that was previously hanging in this space" was to be clarified, the decision made to  "remove it temporarily ... until a statement from the artist can accompany it."

 Reference was made to "the concerns of a number of OCAD University student groups", and concluding with a rather delicate apology should concern have been caused either by the artwork's removal or its inclusion prior to removal in case either "has caused anyone harm." And since the complaint emanated from the ever-watchful eyes of Muslims demanding its immediate removal, and an investigation launched, a bit of panic ensued.

Affront to an Islamophobia-sensitive-prone minority; what a ghastly turn of events!

Yet the controversial piece fit right in with the spirit of the show titled Festival of the Body. The artist originally allowed her name to be attached to the piece, reconsidered, and then had it removed. Lest one wonder why an artist would decide to detach herself from a piece she designed with a purpose for a special event expressing her belief both in her religion and her art, consider the danger she would be placing herself in through connection with a piece of art that enraged her religious peers.

At the same time the university administration is also sensitive to the issue of primary importance in the west known as freedom of speech.

As a fascinating corollary to this incident the school displays a piece of art titled Immersion (Piss Christ), a 1987 photograph by American photographer Andres Serrano. This piece shows a plastic crucifix submerged in a tank of the artist's urine. Christians have denounced, vandalized or threatened harm to the photographer every time the photo has been exhibited over the last three decades.
"We’ve seen the same impulse for self-censorship in the West before … Given the seriousness of the violence, such self-censorship is understandable; it’s also a step backward at a time when we need to reassert the importance of free expression by artists, activists, journalists and editors alike."
Andres Serrano, art photographer
As for the controversial prayer mat which has engendered so much attention, ensuring that the OCAD University special show was a resounding success judged by reaction and presumably attendance, the artist did in the end, give context to her piece, which was re-hung, name still withheld, along with her statement: "If the body was created halal (permissible) when did we make it haram (forbidden)?"

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