Monday, March 4, 2024

Should There Be Laws Against Certain Artistic Expressions?

Feet First (Prima i piedi) (1990), Martin Kippenberger.

In today’s Art Newspaper, Sheikh Zayed, a professor from the University of Cambridge, writes about the contradictions and hypocrisy of liberals in their attempt to explain why blasphemies against Islam are a valid expression of artistic license.

The same religionists are laughing at liberal attempts to explain why blasphemies against Islam are a valid expression of artistic licence, while certain western legal and moral taboos may be acceptably internalised by curators and by legislation. Yet even in Sweden, just two years ago, the Linköping municipality banned posters for a rock festival that showed Satan excreting on a cross. And in Denmark, the newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which had defended its right to publish cartoons of the Prophet, retreated from its stated intention to publish a cartoon that lampooned the Holocaust. Muslims are not slow to note these contradictions, and to observe with amusement the verbal acrobatics of western moralisers who seek to justify them. [italics added]

Zayed makes a good point. Why allow attacks on certain religious ideologies and beliefs, and yet simultaneously cry for punishment or the silencing of so-called hate speech, racist speech, sexist speech, or defamation? For Zayed, if you’re going to protect the aforementioned, then you’ll have to extend that same courtesy and protection to Islam.

Yet just as more secular vulnerabilities deserve protection, in the form of laws against libel, slander, racism, or Holocaust denial, so too do the no less tender sensibilities of religious believers. To assume that the infringement of secular honour is of moral and legal concern, while religionists must be fair game, is arbitrary and unjust.

What’s fascinating about this position is that it argues for the expansion and extension of law into that of artistic speech, effectively narrowing art’s historical function and reach. However, this may be a good thing. For it is only when a discourse or practice is more heavily regulated, legislated, and controlled that it finds the need to question those same regulations, control mechanisms, and laws. The question, of course, is whether there will be any attempt by artists and the “art world” to resist this “censorship,” or if they will simply react by posting their sentiments on facebook.

More via The Art Newspaper here.


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