Ron Rosenbaum

The Art World Cowers Again

It’s rather remarkable that the mainstream media in the U.S. has not covered the firestorm consuming the Netherlands over a Hague museum’s removal of an incendiary picture from an exhibition because of fears of retribution by Islamic radicals.

Check out this piece by Abigail Esmanfrom artnet magazine brought to my attention by artnet contributor Charlie Finch who is also a frequent and thought-provoking commenter here. According to Esman’s account, all hell has broken loose in the nation that saw the murder by a radical Islamist of a supposedly blasphemous film maker, Theo van Gogh, and death threats to his collaborator Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I’m not defending the artwork itself. (As a non-visual person, I frankly am completely baffled by how to assign value to contemporary art). But even if it was deliberately provocative, it’s an image not a murder. Hollywood has still not roused itself to mourn or protest the murder of a fellow film maker. I wonder if the American art world will protest this censorship. And, again, where is the media? Are they going to wait for another murder?

Apparently the artist, an Iranian born woman, Sooreh Hera, was at least in part motivated to combine images of Islamic icons and homosexuality by the murderous hatred of homosexuals in Iran. She cited a December 5 hanging (judicial murder) of a gay Iranian as more than enough justification for her act of free expression. Needless to say death threats have followed, the museum has tried to cover up its cowardly decision, fooling no one.

On the other hand maybe it’s unfair to the work of art to consider it only in the light of sacrilege and blasphemy. Look at the image yourself; the work could be interpreted as an image of love. Just as “Piss Christ” could be defended as an act of reverence (God is immanent in all things on earth). But one thing I know is that an art world that considers itself so brave for standing up for “Piss Christ” and elephant dung when cries of sacrilege go up, has shown itself adept in fleeing in fear from anything that might offend the “Religion of Peace”.