January 8, 2008

Artists in Hiding

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Sooreh Hera is a Dutch artist and former immigrant from Iran who is redefining the concept of bravery in the arts. From the weblog Islam in Europe:

Sooreh Hera says that the Islamic world holds a hypocritical attitude towards sex. Homosexuals in countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia are treated roughly while it is quite usual for married men to have sex with other men. But that is kept hidden.

Hera photographed many homosexuals, two of which were of Iranian origin. According to Hera they did not ant to be recognized and therefore wore masks. In order to denounced the hypocrisy in the Muslim world, she used the faces of Mohammed and Ali.

This image can get you killed in some parts of this world. The truth of this statement should be enough to compel a closing of ranks in the entire art community to defend the freedom of the artist who created it. But much of our art world is silent about it, hiding in plain sight. Indeed, her work has recently been removed from the Hague Museum recently. We in our splendid sophistication are currently unable to resolve the contradiction between multicultural tolerance and freedom of expression... in this case: the recognition of the full spectrum of our sexual nature. How is it that we, in the flower of our secular age, find it impossible to resist the constraints from the taboos of another religion?

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Sooreh Hera

Here is her statement:

Adam & Ewald, Seventh-day lovers

"Practice of the homosexual nature is undesirable. Our guideline in this matter is the Bible." These are the words of a religious Dutch Member of Parliament, adding that if homosexuality were allowed the Bible might have mentioned 'Adam and Ewald' instead of Adam and Eve.

Religion always wants to control human sexuality, most prominently with a compelling taboo on homosexuality. The three major religions always fiercely opposed any deviant form of sexual practice: even today, within the Muslim world homosexuality is a capital offense.

I have tried to show a recognisable beauty of homosexuals, but also an alienating beauty that to many may be unimagined, or dishonorable.

I've posted this snip before in this blog, but the words from Benjamin Kerstein (in the wake of the previous graven cartoon image controversy) at Keshertalk are worth repeating:

...the concept of bravery as it pertains to the arts is now redefined.

Courage, when considered of an artist, can mean one of several things, but it is the sense of risk that defines it.

It can mean a willingness to try what has not been done before. A chef may display courage, and risks the possibility that diners may gag on some brave new creation.

It can mean a willingness to risk the sacrifice of one's own career, like a pop musician being drawn to some other genre of music.

But it can no longer mean merely being offensive, engaging in political or social mockery, save in the case of a few certain targets, because now we all know where the risk is.

There is no risk in mocking politicians, now matter how intensively the abuse is served. There is no risk in mocking any establishements of American or Western culture- no harm will ensue. Performing the "Vagina Monologues" isn't an act of bravery, unless one does it in Saudi Arabia, perhaps. Every artist alive today now knows the limits: you can do this, which is as brave as taunting a stuffed teddy bear, or you can do that, which amounts to taunting a very hungry very uncaged bear.

Bravery, to an artist, is now an all or nothing thing. Leave the repressive regimes alone, and all your efforts, no matter how avante garde, provocative, or just plain offensive your work is, and you are just pretending at courage. Cross the line and say something about Islam, and your life is one the line.

All the gray areas have vanished in a week. It's as if mountaineers were to suddenly be faced with only two choices: Everest, or the plastic rock climbing wall. Long after this dies in the news, its going to echo in the heads of every writer, poet, standup comedian and performance artist- go after any target but the big one, and you're only faking it, playing it safe. It doesn't matter whether they admit it or not, whether they rewrite their material or not, it will be there, in their minds, and it will affect things. Even Margaret Cho knows she can curse Bush all she wants, but she'd better keep her mouth shut about you-know-who if whe doesn't want to bleed to death in the street. Speaking Truth to Power is only a heroic act if Power chooses to make an issue of it.

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And here's the last paragraph by Matthew Campbell in a recent Times Online article:

For her part, Hera, who fled Iran seven years ago, says she has ?no regrets?, particularly when she thinks about the young men and women being hanged there for offending the country?s code of sexuality. ?I do it for them,? she said, ?for the boys and girls with no freedom in Iran.?

That the philosophical problem of the graven image is one that has to be drawn by fundamentalist Islamists with a sword... well, that is a fine illustration of a larger problem within a Muslim world that is struggling with modernity. We should help them in this evolution.

There already exists a rich history of portraiture of he who is "the most perfect man": the Mohammed Image Archive.

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PostScript:

Didn't Zadoz tell you about the Apathetics?

It's a disease.
And it's slowly creeping through all the Vortexes.
That's why Zardoz made you grow crops... to feed these people.

We can't support them anymore.
Apathetic or Renegade... take your choice.

(Zed tosses the apathetic woman in frustration and anger.)

Yes, a bit frightening, isn't it?

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UPDATE:

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Stories like this abound, I'm posting it to convey the intensity of what's happening over there.

Posted by Dennis at January 8, 2008 8:58 AM

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