By Selwyn Duke
Whenever an artist creates a work that impugns tradition or mocks Christianity, it is often said that he is "brave" for challenging the "status quo." Of course, the status quo they're challenging is that of bygone days, the one that, like an old soldier, didn't die but just faded away. Thus, these stout-hearted souls aren't speaking truth to power, but merely using their power to assail out-of-fashion truth. In fact, I have always said that if they really want to earn their stripes, they should start attacking Islam.
It's partially for this reason that a piece from TimesOnline caught my eye. The article is titled "Artists too afraid to tackle radical Islam" and states:
Britain’s contemporary artists are fêted around the world for their willingness to shock but fear is preventing them from tackling Islamic fundamentalism. Grayson Perry, the cross-dressing potter, Turner Prize winner and former Times columnist, said that he had consciously avoided commenting on radical Islam in his otherwise highly provocative body of work because of the threat of reprisals.
Perry also believes that many of his fellow visual artists have also ducked the issue, and one leading British gallery director told The Times that few major venues would be prepared to show potentially inflammatory works.
'I’ve censored myself,' Perry said at a discussion on art and politics organised by the Art Fund. 'The reason I haven’t gone all out attacking Islamism in my art is because I feel real fear that someone will slit my throat.'
I'm sure that would be a tremendous loss to the creative world, as evidenced by the great works created by Perry's brave hand. Writes author of the Times piece Ben Hoyle:
Perry’s highly decorated pots can sell for more than £50,000 and often feature sex, violence and childhood motifs. One work depicted a teddy bear being born from a penis as the Virgin Mary. 'I’m interested in religion and I’ve made a lot of pieces about it,' he said. 'With other targets you’ve got a better idea of who they are but Islamism is very amorphous. You don’t know what the threshold is. Even what seems an innocuous image might trigger off a really violent reaction so I just play safe all the time . . . . Perry said that he had also been scared by the reaction across the Islamic world to Danish cartoons deemed anti-Muslim in 2006 and by the protests against Salman Rushdie’s knighthood this year.
This reminds me of two of Perry's brave comrades-in-dresses, Andres Serrano and Chris Ofili, who gave us, respectively, the crucifix immersed in a bowl of urine and the Virgin Mary smeared with dung at New York City's government-funded Brooklyn Museum. And although I wouldn't place him in the same category, I had to shake my head when I saw Weird Al Yankovic's video "Amish Paradise." Don't get me wrong, Yankovic can be hilarious at times (although this was not one of his better efforts), but one of my immediate thoughts was that if he wants to make sport of a group, he should try a harder target like the Islamists. But it's easy to mock the Amish -- they're avowed pacifists.
Hoyle closes his piece with:
Tim Marlow, director of exhibitions at White Cube, the London gallery, welcomed Perry’s admission. 'It’s something that’s there but very few people have explicitly admitted. Institutions, museums and galleries are probably doing most of the censorship. I would be lying if I said of course we would show something like the Danish cartoons. I think there are genuine reasons for concern. Fundamentalism is a really complex issue and one of the things artists can do is to help us through that complexity. Whether or not it’s their responsibility to do that I’m not sure though.'
Mr. Marlow, since you're not sure, allow me to help you. If such artists and their enablers are going masquerade as something more than smut peddlers, as more than anti-Christian bigots and leftist ideologues, as more than rank opportunists and hyenas who prey on soft targets -- if they would cast themselves as possessors of social consciences and agents of legitimate social change -- they ought to apply the most scrutiny where it is most necessary. They ought to attack the disease, not the cure.
The only thing I will give Grayson Perry credit for is his honesty in this matter. It's nice to finally have an admission affirming what I have always known:
These "artists" are cowards who are simply driven by the base motivations of wanting to spew their culturally poisonous venom and make money.
I have utter contempt for Perry, Serrano, Ofili and the rest of their ilk. Gentlemen, you are truly men for no seasons. You are most deserving of your four feathers.
If you wish to shed those feathers, note that one can be removed every time you use your inestimable talents to mock Islamism. Don't blame me if I won't hold my breath waiting, though.
Oh, I should add that you really have nothing to fear. The value of an artist's work usually increases after his death. And if you are martyred, perhaps someone will create a work memorializing you.
Then maybe, just perhaps, a portrait of you pipsqueaks wouldn't have to be called a craven image.