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ARTERI, The Art of Censorship and The Censorship of Art

It’s interesting that censorship has been featuring heavily on this site – on the main stage as well as behind the scenes.

It’s easy to get caught up in the drama and excitement of censorship being practiced ‘out there’, most notably the taking down of Fahmi Redza’s work at VWFA. The Rock Kaka thread has been by far the most popular on ARTERI to date, reaching 2000 hits on the original post alone. It’s much harder to look closely all the little acts of censorship happening not even next door, but in one’s own living room.

To date, I can already count a few instances of censorship in practice on ARTERI, having perpetrated two of them. I edited a comment and then posted a moderation note on this thread, and flagged 3 comments as originating from the same I.P address in the Rock Kaka post. In both instances I acted purely on my own sense of subjectivity, which, when you strip it all back, comes down to the idea of ‘taking offense’.

Most recently, someone we photographed complained about his image being used on the site and demanded that we remove it. One of our editors did so immediately.

Does this differ in any way from someone going into VWFA and demanding the removal of ‘offensive’ artwork? It must be some strange symmetry at work that we have been asked to take down the image of the person who is taking down our dear PM’s image! It’s so symmetrical that I am tempted to view it as a kind of subversive art performance thing by the commenter!

And then far behind the decorous screens of ARTERI, a debate ensues amongst the editors regarding certain potentially offensive comments made by other contributing editors. On the one hand we express outrage at the censorship of art, and on the other we exercise our own forms of silencing.

In light of these paradoxes, as well as the research I have done on censorship for a past exhibition, I am convinced that we need to examine the practice of censorship much more closely, precisely because it is so closely aligned to power. We must accept that even as we lament and resist the censorship of art/civil society by the authorities, we ourselves have senses that can be ‘offended’ at any given time.

It seems to me that the only way to approach censorship is to constantly uncover the psychological reasons for it. The goal is not so much about combating censorship as it is about keeping an eye on our very natural propensity for it. ‘Bodily organs move independently of will. From this disobedience of the flesh, mark of a fallen state, none of us is exempt, not even the guardians of our morals’ wrote Andre Brink.

‘The ends justify the means only if something justifies the end’ – Leon Trotsky.

The world turns, and the shift of power will change hands many times. Today the bloggers and pro-reformists of Iran are being violently searched out and suppressed. In the future, those who survive today may well be the ones who stage their own witch hunts. Don’t say you wouldn’t. We are none of us superior. Only by being constantly mindful of ourselves can we hope to understand how power works – we expose the structures of power by acknowledging that we are personally subject to the same temptations, the same evils. This will give us the insight, wisdom, tactics and strength necessary to confront our oppressors.

That is how we bring down those in power – down down down, down to our own level.


This article was first posted on the original Arteri site on 22 June, 2009.

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