Monday, July 9, 2007

Attempted Censorship

The title of this post has been changed

Periodically on the one of the listservs, conversations (threads) are started about creating work with “meaning” and how it relates to art. Not long ago, however, a thread emerged that left me flabbergasted. It started with a message requesting responses about what type of art quilts you are working on.

All was fine until Patricia Turner made the following post [reprinted here by permission]:

“I am closing in on finishing a work I am doing about
an incident of gang rape that I heard of that
happened in Dar Fur (undoubtedly and heart-
breakingly a common occurrence). It features a
satellite replica of Earth as focused on Africa that I
made from hand dyed, painted, and "smocked" silk
charmeuse. Also, a woman's face thread painted
on dupioni........the face is based on a beautiful
African mask that is housed in a European museum.

It is, obviously, not an upbeat topic but I felt
compelled for the past two years to make it.

I have absolutely no idea what I will do with it when
finished, I don't know of any shows that might accept
its subject matter for consideration as an entry.

Maybe I'm wrong?”

Someone replied to the post with a concern about the topic to which Patricia responded:
“I am so sorry for your horrible experience..........
But I think my work is more about the tragedy in
Dar Fur as a whole than about the crime of rape
itself. In Dar Fur rape is utilized as a tool of war.

In the story I heard on the radio two years ago a
Dar Fur physician was describing various wounds
he was treating at his makeshift hospital. In a rather
matter-of-fact way, he spoke of a woman whose
wrists were cut half way to the bone from being
hanged from the limb of a tree by her wrists and
raped by the Janjawid for 3 days.

The scene in my quilt is not graphic but it
features the woman, her wrist, and the tree with
its rope.

My heart goes out to you, to me, and to all the
women of the world affected by this heinous
invasion of self.....but especially to those for
whom it is an everyday occurrence.”

Other “nay-sayers” jumped on the bandwagon and opined that Patricia was being insensitive and that the art should either be not created, not shown, or shown only at very limited and specific venues. Patricia responded:

“My work about the tragedy in Dar Fur is NOT
about rape, per se, it is about war. It is about
rape as used in war as a weapon.

It is about a war that we are not paying
attention to, in a distant land to nameless
people. It is about women and children being
mutilated. It is about our.....yours and mine
.......ignorance of and "cavalier" attitude towards
a tragedy unfolding before our eyes.

It is about 400,000 people murdered. It is
about millions displaced.

[Here, Patricia quotes a response referring
to her comments as being cavalier and a
rationalization and as evidence that she has
no understanding about what it means to
have been raped. Patricia then continues]
Guess what, you are wrong.

Perhaps you did not read my earlier post in
which I responded to Xxx with these words:
"My heart goes out to you, to me, and to all
the women of the world affected by this
heinous invasion of self.......but especially to
those for whom it is an everyday occurrence."

But this is not about me. It is about the brave
women in the Sudan who suffer unspeakable
misery for themselves and their children every
day of their lives. I will proudly display my quilt
in any venue who will accept it.”

Patricia also beautifully expressed her view of how art is defined:

Art expresses what the artist intends.
Art amazes the viewer each time she looks at it.
Art grows in stature and continuously matures.
Art is mysterious and powerful.
Art is unforgettable.
Patricia continued to be attacked in subsequent posts that were couched in terms ranging from being hurt [by her "insensitivity to victims of rape"], to self-righteousness [take this conversation off-list because “ I” don’t want to read it], to outrage [how dare you want to exhibit something like this where people will see it] and finally ending in obscenity [self-explanatory]. All of these comments posted by those whom I’m sure would be highly outraged if someone tried to stifle their own artistic expression.

Fortunately, the true artists on the list began to speak:

“As artists we have the ability to make a difference in the world through our art. It isn't always easy to create what our inner self is demanding us to create - and we need to be supported, not silenced, by other artists.”

“One thing no one has mentioned (or maybe I missed) during the current wave of controversy is the power we have as artists to bring controversial subjects to the attention of the public. As artists wehave the ability to make a difference in the world through our art. It isn't always easy to create what our inner self is demanding us to create - and we need to be supported, not silenced, by other artists.”

“I am always amazed at how much people talk about protecting artistic freedom, until it gives a voice to something they do not want to hear.”

“Art isn't just about making pretty or unusual pieces that make us feel good, or leave us with no feelings at all.”

“Do definitely be unafraid to express yourself through your art. It is one of the best qualities of art – the healing power -- that can help all of us get through anything.”

“When things remain hidden, they bind us. When they are brought out into the light and exposed for what they are - it's easier to put them in proper perspective, and no one can tell another how to do it.”

“Raising awareness is crucial.... “

“ [the quilt] speaks out about a cause that needs to be heard. Many galleries are not afraid in the least of showing political work. Quilts for Change is a big quilt show that sounds like an appropriate venue too... they specifically are fund raising to stop violence against women. My vote is go for it!”

“To say that it shouldn't be in "normal" or "average" shows, kind of proves the point that it needs to be shown. If it's only in an exhibit meant for abuse or rape of women, then only the people willing to go out and help and are that ARE willing to give thought to this problem will see it, and your average person can go along and continue to not have to face the facts that this is a huge problem around the globe.”

“I feel compelled to write that we must consider that this list is quilt my mind art is art, an artist's expression is his or her own. No one has to like it; agree with it; understand it; or even go see it. The expression is what is important and must never be censored.”

“The common theme on this list is artistic freedom - how is it that we are "eating our own"? Patricia came to this group with a question that was probably hard for her to ask, just as it was hard for her to do the piece. And the group is quickly turning”

“…it is on topic with art and quilt art. There are relevant questions being asked, and significant topics discussed. That is, I believe, the stated purpose of this group. To stop this discussion out of deference to some requests by people who are upset by this topic, is not only a mistake, not only not regarding the purpose of this group, but sounds like censorship in the worst case scenario.”

“We have had many discussions about 'what is art' on this list, and it is frequently mentioned that art is something that has meaning for you, or speaks to you. We can't all find meaning in flowers and seascapes all of the time, some of us feel a need to express our emotions about the world in our quilts, and I believe that this kind of art adds depth to whatever venue it is found in.”

“…these discussions are relevant to art and our involvement in this art form”

“I think that we often lose sight of the "ART" in "QuiltART." Art doesn't have to match our sofas, it doesn't have to be pretty, and it doesn't have to make us comfortable. It DOES have to give us something to think about - whether it be a topic as charged as this one, or simply the relationship of colors or the texture of the cloth.”

“Art sometimes shocks. That is a fact of the cultural life. Sometimes it makes political statements; sometimes it makes very personal statements. Art should move us emotionally as well as aesthetically.”

“I will continue to resist all efforts to relegate artworks that are controversial to their own little restricted venues. That is a kind of covert censorship that everyone should resist...”

“Art isn't just about making pretty or unusual pieces that make us feel good, or leave us with no feelings at all. Throughout history people have made a lot of art that deals with every uncomfortable subject in the world. It is ok, and it is all part of the art environment overall.”

“I salute all of you who make art to express things that touch you deeply emotionally, even the things that are not pretty. And thank you again, all you good folks, who stood up for those who have dared speak out about it.”

“Hear, hear, to those who create challenging work, to those who appreciate the subject and/or effort, and to those who have confidence in themselves to make choices that suit their own needs/wishes.”

“I remembered the huge controversy in which every art quilter everywherewent to bat for Jonathan Shannon...he entered the show with anabsolutely stunning quilt, I think called "Dance de Muerte," and he was honoring friends of his who had died of AIDS...[the] show rejected his piece outright, and it caused the biggest controversy over such a piece ever that I am aware of anyway.”


fiberfantasia said...

Allow me to be the first to congratulate you on your summary of the Quiltart listserv controversy that began over my new work about Darfur. I thought it was thorough and accurate. It did remind me of the chagrin I felt when some, who seemingly did not accurately read my posts, reacted so vehemently. But it also reminded me of all the well expressed artists' posts defending our collective right to make and display "uncomfortable art".

I do have to clarify, however, that the definition of art you attributed to me is NOT MINE. I was reading a couple books on art at the time and the definition was taken from my notes. I often write whole phrases "lifted" from a book in my personal notes so they may not have even been my own words. I truly wish I could be that eloquent about defining art, but, alas, I am not.

I should finish my work, "DARkly FURgotten" in the next day or two and will send you a photo.
Many thanks, Gwen, for your wonderful synthesis of the QuiltArt discussion.
Patricia Anderson Turner

Sonji Hunt said...

From your summary, it seems as though the range of perspective mimics our larger society. Lots of people simply talk about what outrages them, but when it comes into their own backyard they run and hide. Others stand strong.

Honestly, I've never understood, especially in this day and age, how so many can be so upset by art. The art isn't going to injury anyone or kill anyone. It's a vehicle of the mind, of the soul. It is a method to employ change of heart and will...because that is where the real change takes place. Laws mean nothing if will and desire and belief systems don't change. Oh...I guess I answered myself. That's why deviating from topics of using cat hair as batting might be frightening. Hmmm.

OK. I'm going back to my self indulgent pretty art production. I'm not so deep as others, which is why I am glad they exist. Can't wait to see your piece, Patricia. Gwen, love the info provided on your blog.

Gwen Magee said...

Patricia, I look forward to posting the image of "DARly FURgotten". And though you say the definition of art was gleamed from a variety of sources, you indeed made it yours.

And Sonji, believe it or not, one person actually stated that the "cat" and "what men wear under their kilt" messages were acceptable specifically because they "...make very few people uncomfortable."

Lisa said...

99% of my work some underlying meaning and most of it has to do with me getting rid of my personal demons. Congrats to Pat on doing this quilt-it was her inspiration she felt compelled to do it. I applaud you! Unfortunately, I think some of the quilt art participants forget that it is a vehicle to discuss art quilts (of any subject matter) . Lisa Chipetine

lizzieb said...

thank you Gwen, for addressing this. I too felt it was an attempt at censorship. Life is not always pleasant. I chose not to be in the middle of much of the unpleasantness, primarily because that was what I did for a living for almost 30 years. Now, I still make art with meaning and have even done a series on the disappearance of childhood which was about the US and Darfur. Although no one would know from seeing the work...

Gwen Magee said...

Lisa, you are so right - and no one else can dictate where the artist's vision will lead her or him.

Lizzieb, I've found that somehow someone invariably picks up on the underlying meanings in my work even when I think I'm being subtle - which is not often.

Ferret said...

Thank you so much for these postings on censorship. I feel very strongly that censorship helps the bad guys of the world far more than it protects anyone else. It can't be right to protect those hurting others. Keep shining a light on the grubby corners of the world.

Gwen Magee said...

I strongly believe in artistic freedom of expression and find it very disconcerting that artists themselves sometimes attempt to stifle the creativity of others.

Anonymous said...

I am writing this anonymously because I have been treated that way by you. I don't understand why you have chosen to publish this posting at all. You have chosen to publish private conversations of a private group. You have chosen a very one-sided view of how everything happened, you obviously have your point of view and agenda in this. None of us are for censorship in the arts. That is not at all what the discussion was about. That wasn't what any of the opinions were about. Remember, they were opinions. You also show your bias and judgment by statements such as "true artists." If you are going to purport to have a Textile Arts Resource Guide, you need to be more of a resource and less opinionated.

Gwen Magee said...

Anonymous, there is nothing on the post that was taken out of context or that quoted you in any way. Yes, I do have a point of view and that is what was expressed. My use of the phrase "true artist" reflected that.

Anonymous said...

I respect your opinion on your interpretation of the event. My only concern with this post is that there are a number of quotes lifted from a private list without "permission given to re-post."

I am signing as Anonymous as I do not have a google/blogger account and do not wish to join.

Anonymous said...

You may have quoted some of the posters, but you cherry-picked for effect. I do agree that a couple may have been trying to censor, but I think that the majority of those making negative comments were uncomfortable with the topic for varying reasons. Not the same as censorship, imo.

vyala said...

I am not going to comment on whether there was attempted censorship or not, whether someone was quoted without her/his permission and what we may show as real art. There are facts out there which are much worse than snarky comments going from one side to another.

A couple of days ago I came across a news report which really upset me and which shows very clearly how far "censorship", fanatism, ignorance and blind rage have come:

a gallery in San Francisco, which has been vandalized and the gallery owner, a woman with two kids brutally hit in the face only because she dared to exhibit work that accused the horrors of war in Iraq.
I wonder if one's action is justified and another not only because it's done by the "enemy"?
Here you can read the full article:

Anonymous said...

What a bunch of self bloviating hogwash. Your illegal copying of other's words and images speaks more to your nature that your pretense of world saving free speech arguments. What I learned here is that to you, free speech apparently means "you create it and I steal it".

I recognize some of the comments that you have snipped out of context, claimed they were not the words of those who typed them yet say you have permission for those you quote. Being a source for information means you should link to it, or god forbid actually create some writings of your own. Do you know the word bibliography?

Opinions are not censorship. So what are you babbling about anyway?
Could it be the speech freely expressed in those posts?

No account but I do have a name - Marie Santucci

Gwen Magee said...

Marie, you have the right to express your opinion that mine is "hogwash", self-bloviating or otherwise. And to what illegal images do you refer? Regarding the "snipped out of context" reference, that simply has not occurred. Yes, I do know the word bibliography and know in what context it should be used. Do you? Opinions become censorship when they are used in an effort to exert control someone elses art.

Gwen Magee said...

Vyala, I just noticed your comment. The incident at the San Francisco gallery is a horrid example of censorship. What I find truly scary is that those people probably don't see themselves as having done anything wrong or out of line. It is chilling. I will post the website.

Cathy Bargar said...

Good job, Gwen! While I have to say that there is a difference between "censorship" and controversy on a listserve (and I'm an active member of the group involved in the issue you are addressing), it is hard for me to imagine reasonable, intelligent people believing that they have a right to suppress the individual expressions of opinion by an artist - or anyone else!

I am aware that it is currently considered politically correct to avoid "triggering" those who are the victimes of traumatic experiences. Without intending any insensitivity (and my professional life has included working with victims of rape, incest, trauma), it is my opinion that we are ALL being traumatized any time we are witness to the unspeakable violence and hatred that is inflicted upon us by the actions of anybody (whether it be our own government's military actions or those of any group or individual that seeks to control others by terror and violence). To be aware of such things, whether our witnessing is as public as reports in the news media or as private as the agony experienced by an individual victim of rape or abuse, and NOT to react is to lose our humanity. One of the roles of the artist has always been to give form and voice to to our human response to trauma, pain and outrage, both indivually and collectively. The universal, intrinsic knowledge that to knowingly cause harm to others is clarified, even celebrated, through the work of the artist.

And for the record, Gwen, you have my permission to use my words in any further piece you write on the subject, as long as you give attribution. I appreciate your writing on this subject!

Cathy Bargar

Gwen Magee said...

Very well said Cathy. You've captured the essence of a quotation by Ursula LeGuinn,"One of the functions of art is to give people the words to know their own experience. There are always areas of vast silence in any culture, and part of an artist's job is to go into those areas and come back from the silence with something to say."

Sarah E. said...

Gwen, I love your quote from Ursula LeGuin. She's one of my favorite authors. It's interesting to see which nerves get touched by which comments/posts/opinions...!! I've signed up for your feed-read, and I'm quite looking forward to more of your quite refreshing subject matters. Keep up the good work!!

Gwen Magee said...

Thanks Sarah. I'll do my best. Just hope my self-bloviating hogwash doesn't get in the way.

Anonymous said...

It's a good quilt, very sad indeed. I think the furore says more about those who were upset than anything else

Caroline, uk

Gwen Magee said...

Thanks for your comment Caroline - the same thought had crossed my mind.