November 14, 2002

WEAR BLACKFACE AND YOU GET SUSPENDED: Paint something that people find offensive on other grounds and you win an award:

The 4-foot-by-6-foot oil painting by Cong Lu, 24, depicts a young Asian man pulling up his shirt to reveal explosives strapped around his midsection. A pistol is tucked into his waistband. The piece is entitled, Self Portrait of a Martyr.

The painting, one of 78 works on exhibit at the school through December, hangs in the building's main lobby at 200 Grant St. The piece was awarded Student Best of Show, and the artist received a $1,300 Allied Arts Award, given yearly to an outstanding young artist.

But a handful of students have complained about the painting, which they interpret as hostile, anti-American, anti-Semitic and anti-Christian. They also object to the title, which equates suicide bombers with martyrs.

Leona Lazar, executive director of the ASLD, said she understands why people find the painting so troubling - but that's no reason to remove it or banish it to a less-visible position.

"Art is subjective," she said. "Used as a metaphor or presented as the artist's personal statement, every opinion is valid and every viewer is entitled to his or her own interpretation."

I guess the guys at Kappa Sigma should have tried that argument. More proof of Dale Amon's point about the unevenness of these standards.

UPDATE: From the "maybe it is subjective" department, a reader writes:

Without knowing anything about Cong Lu or his painting, I can't help but see parody in it. The suicide bombers believe they are on a divine mission, presumably; Cong Lu has borrowed their trappings and title for a preening and arguable homoerotic exercise in narcissism. Maybe that's not what he intends, but that's what I see. I think it's hilarious.


UPDATE: Reader Laurence Rothenberg writes: "What would happen if someone painted, 'Self-portrait in Blackface?'"

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Ben Gibson writes (as did several others) "Why does the painting of the "martyr" have breasts? If it is supposed to be a man, well, that is a nice set of hooters. It does not look like a gal other than the prominent breasts. Perhaps this martyr guy has some issues."

Actually, I think it's just bad technique, with those meant to be bulging, manly pecs. But since we're informed that this is all subjective anyway, I'm going to say "nice rack on that suicide bomber!" Another (female) reader noted where the pistol is pointing and said "he'd better be careful or he'll blow off his tiny little suicide-bomber penis!"

ONE MORE UPDATE: Reader Ken Summers says this reminds him of the line from Fun with Dick and Jane: "Don't go off half-cocked." And Tucker Goodrich reports:

Just got back from Boston, where I saw the following bumper sticker:
"Martyrdom is for Suckers"

Indeed it is. Somebody should translate that into Arabic.