Last week, Australians found themselves delighting in another fit of cancel culture, this time in the art world. Tasmania’s Dark Mofo art festival prides itself on being gritty but the mood was very much about removing any grit to begin with. Interest centred on the project of Spanish artist Santiago Sierra, who had proposed soaking a Union Jack flag “in the blood of its colonised territories.” The blood would come by way of donations. First Nation peoples “from countries claimed by the British Empire at some point in history, who reside in Australia” would furnish the liquid.
Given what followed, festival organisers might have preferred one of Sierra’s other suggestions: a work that would have involved vast amounts of cocaine. Social media outrage followed. People purporting to speak for the offended, while also counting themselves as offended, railed and expectorated. Festival curator Leigh Carmichael tried to be brave against the howling winds of disapproval. “At this stage we will push on,” he told ABC Radio Hobart on March 23. “Provided we can logistically make this work happen, we will.” He acknowledged that, “These were very dangerous topics, they’re hard, they hurt.” For criticisms that the work was being made by a Spanish artist, Carmichael was initially clear: to make work taboo for people from specific localities could constitute “a form of racism in itself.” Then inevitable equivocation followed. “This artist is about their experience and whether a Spanish artist has the right to weigh in, I don’t know.”
Within a matter of hours, Carmichael’s position had collapsed: Sierra’s project was cut and put out to sea. “We’ve heard the community’s response to Santiago Sierra’s Union Flag.” Grovelling and capitulation before this all powerful community followed. “We made a mistake, and take full responsibility. The project will be cancelled. We apologise to all First Nations people for any hurt that has been caused. We are sorry.”
David Walsh, Tasmanian founder of MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) and responsible for running the festival, was open to self-education and reflection, having not seen “the deeper consequences of this proposition.” He had thought the work “would appeal to the usual leftie demographic. I approved it without much thought (as has become obvious).” A bit of old-fashioned, censoring conservatism was called for.
Brian Ritchie, bassist for the Violent Femmes and artistic director of Mona Foma, the museum’s summer festival, felt righteous, firstly, wanting to distance his own outfit as “a completely different and separate organisation” before weighing into rubbishing the cultural sensitivity credentials of the work and the artist. “Exploiting people while claiming to protest on their behalf is intellectually void. Stupid programming is aesthetically null. Controversy outweighing the quality of the work is bad art.”
The cancellation was approved by the bloated entities across the academy, certain ethnic groups and the professionally enraged. Critique ranged from the identity of the artist (Spanish, foreigner, coloniser) to the merits of the work itself. “A coloniser artist intending to produce art with the actual blood of colonised people is abusive, colonising and re-traumatising,” came the social worker assessment from novelist Claire G. Coleman. “The idea is disgusting and terrible and should not have been considered.”
If every traumatic, disgusting incident (rape, pillage, massacres, wars, the crucifixion) were to be considered a bad idea for representation, the canvasses best be left empty, the art shows barren. Never depict, for instance, that Tasmania’s lands are blood soaked by European conquest. Do not, as Australian artist Mike Parr did in June 2018, bury yourself beneath a busy street of the state capital Hobart to get to the hidden truth. That way lies trauma.
The art content commissars were also keeping close eye over how the depiction might have been properly staged, if it was even possible. Such a contribution can be found in the journal Overland. “Simply stating or depicting that the beginnings of the Australian colony were brutal and bloody for Indigenous people is a passive act,” moaned the very selective Cass Lynch. She demands, expects. “The concept on its own isn’t active as an agent of truth-telling, it doesn’t contain an indigenous vice or testimony, it has no nuance. On its own, it leans into the glorification of the gore and the violence of colonisation.” Blood, it would seem, is no indicator of truth.
In such convulsions of faux sensitivity to the First Nations, the arts sector (for this is what it has become in Australia, a corporatized, sanitised cobbling of blandness, branding and safe bets) justified not merely the pulling of the piece, but that it should have ever been contemplated to begin with. In the commentary on Sierra, the Indigenous peoples are spoken of in abstract and universal terms: they were hurt and all have one, monolithic voice; and “white curators” should have thought better in letting the project ever get off the ground. Thinking in cultural police terms, Paola Balla asked “how this was allowed to be programmed in the first place? And what structures support white curators to speak of Black traumas?” Such questions are bound to embolden art vandals across the world keen on emptying every museum for being inappropriately informed about “power structures.”
Ironically enough, in this swell of ranting about voices and representation, the artist in question was deprived of it. Sierra, in a statement released on March 25, called treatment of his work “superficial and spectacular” and his own treatment as a “public lynching.” His quotes had been misconstrued; he had been “left without a voice, without the capacity to explain and defend” his project. He had hoped the blood-soaked Union Jack would inspire reflection “on the material on which states and empires are built” and reveal how “all blood is equally red and has the same consistency, regardless of the race or culture of the person supplying it.”
Sierra’s shabby treatment did not go unnoticed. Parr took issue with the festival organisers’ “cowardice and lack of leadership.” Michael Mansell, Chair of the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania urged Carmichael to push on with the work. “The artist challenges Tasmanians about whether Aboriginal lands were peacefully or violently taken, and uses the blood-smattered Union Jack to express his view.” By all means disagree with the artist and even feel offended “but that cannot justify stifling the artist’s freedom of thought.” A sinister result had followed from the cancellation of the project. “The unintended consequence of the objectors is that the discussion about truth telling will now be ignored, put aside.”
There are parallels in this fiasco with previous instances of rage over what can and cannot be depicted in the shallow art lands of the Antipodes. The cultural police also took issue with Australian photographic artist Bill Henson in 2008 for his portrayals of children as sexual beings. On May 22 that year, twenty Henson photographs featuring “naked children aged 12 and 13” were confiscated by police from Sydney’s Roslyn Oxley9 gallery. Jason Smith of the Monash Gallery of Art defended Henson, claiming that his work “has consistently explored human conditions of youth, and examined a poignant moment between adolescence and adulthood.”
Then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was having none of it. There were simply certain things you could not touch, that art should not enable you to understand. Henson had erred into vice. “Kids deserve to have the innocence of their childhood protected,” he spluttered. Rudd found the photographs “absolutely revolting” despite having not seen them. “Whatever the artistic view of the merits of that sort of stuff – frankly I don’t think there are any – just allow kids to be kids.” Jenny Macklin, Minister for Families at the time, moralised before the Nine Network about how children were “just getting bombarded with sexualised images all the time, and it’s that sexualisation of children that I think is wrong.” Now, just as then, artists have been put on notice.
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Imaginations, creativity of Mountview students on display at Cariboo Art Beat
Creative, imaginative artwork of students from Mountview Elementary School will be on public display at the gallery of Cariboo Art Beat until April 9.
“The students of Mountview elementary were all invited to participate in an art contest,” Tiffany Jorgensen said, an artist at Cariboo Art Beat.
Each class was separately judged by three professional artists at Cariboo Art Beat, Jorgensen said, based on the students’ creativity, techniques, use of space and originality.
“It was extremely difficult to select pieces from the abundance of beautiful art presented,” she said. “There is so much talent and fantastic imaginations.”
The artist of each selected piece was given formal invitations to their art show to distribute to whomever they choose, and Jorgensen said anyone is free to view the beautiful artwork throughout until April 9.
Honoured at the show were works from local artists Ryker Hagen, Annika Nilsson, Rylie Trampleasure, Angus Shoults, Izabella Telford, Isabella Buchner, Kai Pare and more.
“Come view their wonderful pieces to get a glimpse into the minds of our creative youth,” Jorgensen said.
“It’s been so fun. The kids have come in and seen their work on display with their grandparents, parents, and they’re all so excited.”
Following up on the success of the Mountview art show, Jorgensen said more elementary schools have been invited to participate.
April will feature the works of Nesika and Big Lake, followed by Marie Sharpe and Chilcotin Road next month.
Cariboo Art Beat is located at 19 First Ave., under Caribou Ski Source for Sports’ entrance on Oliver Street.
Source:– Williams Lake Tribune – Williams Lake Tribune
Launching the conversation on Newfoundland and Labrador art history
ST. JOHN’S, N.L. —
“Future Possible: An Art History of Newfoundland and Labrador” is a book that has been a long time coming, Mireille Eagan says.
While working at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Prince Edward Island, Eagan curated an exhibition marking the 60th anniversary of Newfoundland and Labrador joining Confederation with Canada.
“As I was researching, I noticed that there was very little that existed in terms of the art history of this province,” she said. “There wasn’t even a Wikipedia article.”
Noticing this large gap, “Future Possible” was a book that needed to exist, she said.
As the 70th anniversary approached in 2019, Eagan, now living in St. John’s and working as curator of contemporary art at The Rooms, envisioned filling that gap.
Over two summers, The Rooms held a two-part exhibition. The first looked at the visual culture and visual narratives before the province joined Confederation and the second focused on 1949 onward, Eagan said.
“At its core, it was asking, what are the stories we tell ourselves as a province? It was looking at iconic artworks, it was looking at texts that have been written about this place, and it put these works in conversation with contemporary artworks,” Eagan said.
In the foreword to the book, chief executive officer of The Rooms Anne Chafe described it as a complement to the exhibition and a project that “does not seek to be the final say. It seeks, instead, to launch the conversation.”
History and identity
One example of that conversation between the past and the present mentioned by Eagan is the work of artist Bushra Junaid, who moved to St. John’s from Montreal as a baby. The daughter of a Jamaican mother and Nigerian father, Junaid said her experience growing up in the province in the 1970s, where she always the only Black child in the room, was not like most.
“All of my formative years, my schooling and everything, took place in St. John’s,” she said. “It’s very much shaped my current preoccupation.”
Her interest in history, identity and representation led her to making “Two Pretty Girls…,” which used an archival photograph of Caribbean sugarcane workers from 1903 with text from advertisements for sugar, molasses and rum from archived copies of The Evening Telegram collaged over the women’s clothing.
In her essay “Of Saltfish and Molasses” published in “Future Possible,” she described the work as “(allowing) me to place these women and their labour within the broader historical context of the international trade in commodities that underpinned Caribbean slavery and its afterlife.”
It’s a direct connection between Newfoundland and people in the Caribbean, a historical line not often drawn through the context of the transatlantic slave trade, but one she knows personally through the stories told by her mother, Adassa, about their ancestor, Sisa, who “as a teenager, survived the horrors of the Middle Passage, enduring the voyage from West Africa to Jamaica in the hold of a slave ship (Junaid).”
A book like “Future Possible” allows people to interpret themselves and their past, present and future, Junaid says.
“I appreciate the ways in which they really worked to make it as broad and diverse as possible,” she said. “It’s also striving to tell the Indigenous history of the place, the European settler history … and then also looking for … non-Western backgrounds such as myself. It’s enriching.”
What shapes us
St. John’s writer Lisa Moore contributed an essay called “Five Specimens from Another Time” that weaves together moments from her own life, the province’s history and current realities and the art that has inspired her over the years.
“It’s really interesting to me to see all this work of people that I’ve written about in the past and whose work influenced me, even in my writing of fiction, and then newer artists,” Moore said. “I just think that the book is a total gift.”
With such a rich cultural history ready to be written, she imagines “Future Possible” is just the first of what could be many books about art in the province now that the “ice is cracked.”
“The writers that (Eagan) has chosen to write here are also really exciting critics from all over the province, talking about all kind of different periods in art history,” she said.
As time passes, the meaning of the works in the book becomes richer, she said.
Mary Pratt’s 1974 “Cod Fillets on Tin Foil” and Scott Goudie’s 1991 “Muskrat Falls,” for instance, are two images with seemingly straightforward and simple subject matter. But any viewer looking now, who is aware of the cod moratorium and the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam, would find it difficult to see and interpret these images outside of those contexts.
“Artists, writers, filmmakers … they’re keen observers of culture and the moment that we live in,” Moore said. “They present things that are intangible like the feeling of a moment, or the culmination of social, political and esthetic powers that come together at a given time and shape us.”
“Future Possible: An Art History of Newfoundland and Labrador” is available online and in stores.
Parrott Art Gallery goes virtual to help flatten the curve – The Kingston Whig-Standard
Feeling stir crazy because of COVID and the latest lock-down? Take a virtual trip to Morocco!
On Wednesday, April 14 at 2:30 p.m., the Parrott Gallery will host Lola Reid Allin’s Armchair Traveler online presentation: “Morocco: Sea, Sand and Summit”. Allin is an accomplished photographer, pilot, writer and speaker. Travel with her through the land of dramatic contrast and hidden jewels, busy markets and medieval cities, and enjoy some virtual sun.
For more information and to register for this free online event, please visit bellevillelibrary.ca/armchair-traveller.php. The Armchair Traveller Morocco photography exhibit is also available to view through the Parrott Gallery website until mid-May.
Even though our gallery is currently closed to the public, our exhibitions are all available to view online. Sam Sakr’s show “The Housing Project” is certain to bring a smile to your face. His collection of mixed media artwork will take you to a playful land of fantastical creatures that inhabit imaginary, stylized cityscapes. If your spirit needs uplifting, you need to see to see this show. I hope that everyone will be able to view Sakr’s work both online and then in our gallery after the lock-down ends in May. Without a doubt, it will be worth the wait to see it again in-person when we re-open.
Another exhibition that you can currently visit on the Parrott Gallery website is the group show “Spring Sentiments: a Reflection of Art in Isolation”. This was a collaborative effort by the 39 artists who submitted their work, our staff who put the show together in the gallery and online, and our guest curator Jessica Turner. We are thrilled that Jessica was able to transcribe her experience with this show into a final paper for her Curatorial Studies BFA degree at OCADU.
The fact that we have had to close our doors just as this show was opening is a sad reflection of the theme as the audience must now reflect on this artwork at home, in isolation. The up-side to viewing this exhibition online is that one can read the artist statements that accompany the work and get a more in depth view of the artists’ perspectives. We encourage viewers to support our artists by sending in their comments and to vote for their favourites in the show by following the appropriate link on the webpage.
When you can’t come in to our building, the Parrott Gallery will bring the artwork to you. And then when the sun and flowers come out in May, and when it is safe to return to our gallery on the third floor of the Belleville Public Library, we hope to see you all again.
For questions about our online talk, our shows, or to purchase any of the artwork please call us at 613-968-6731 x 2040 or email us at email@example.com.
Wendy Rayson-Kerr is the Acting Curator at the John M. Parrott Art Gallery.