Part II in our series on censored art – read part 1 here.
I remember when I was in primary school and we had to write a poem one day. The limitation we were given for this particular assignment was that it had to be about an animal of some sort. I wrote a pearler about a squadron of magpies that poo on unsuspecting ground-dwellers. My teacher thought it was a good laugh and I did pretty well in her books.
Seems entirely innocent – a nine-year-old waxing poetic on the excretory habits of our avian counterparts. However, later that day I was called out of math class to go and speak to the principal. He asked me sternly, “Why did you write a poem about magpie poo?”
“Um…because I thought it was funny? To make people laugh?”
After a brief lecture on tastefulness I was allowed back to class, having endured my first real brush with the world of censorship and the conservative’s attempt to put a stranglehold on artistic expression and bird shit.
As I’ve grown in to this world of toiling information and opinions though, I’ve seen that I am not the only battler to have fallen under the scrutiny of those who wish to uphold old fashioned values at the expense of creative freedom and, generally, a more progressively intellectual and aware global culture. At the extreme end of the spectrum there are people like the Persian producer Mahdyar Aghajani, whose role of music composition for the 2009 film ‘No One Knows About Persian Cats’ led to his exile from Iran. Mahdyar’s earlier musical works in the hip hop genre had already garnered the dangerous attention of the Iranian government, so when the film – named for the Iranian policy of disallowing cats and dogs in public – won the 2009 Cannes Film award and presented to the world the plight of young Persian creatives facing lashes for betraying the strict guidelines of the Ministry for Culture and Islamic Guidance, a certain line was crossed and Mahdyar was forced to flee to Europe with a fatwa all over his phat beats.
In a less mortally dangerous case of government action, Finnish street artist Sampsa fell victim to censorship by the powers that be in Paris, where his statement against the French government’s anti-piracy agency Hadopi was partially painted over by city workers to remove the text “The Blood Sucking Hadopi”. Without the text of course the piece is rendered politically inert and poor Sampsa’s artistic voice is smothered. The artwork itself was in response to Hadopi’s crackdown on internet piracy, utilizing a three strikes method for offenders, a scheme which, as statistics show, had failed to curb the decline of physical sales in the music industry despite all of the funding poured in to the endeavor. With this in mind it would seem that public scrutiny of the agency was entirely warranted.
In both of these cases, it is that public scrutiny of authority that is undermined, and this is perhaps the most socially degrading element of the whole censorship affair. Provocation is denied in favour of neutrality, but at what cost? Which of these serves as a greater catalyst for progress? We have seen this pattern mirrored here in Australia, where only last year during Sydney’s Vivid Festival, photographs depicting the aftermath of several recent Australian natural disasters were pulled from public display at Circular Quay. The argument being that such images are ‘too distressing’ and simply not family friendly enough (news flash, reality isn’t family friendly!). At this point it seems pertinent to question the consistency of the standards of a country where images of flooded houses and burnt landscapes are hurriedly removed from the public space to protect the right of young children to have a fright-free walk on the waterfront, while thousands of cigarette packets branded with dead babies and deliciously tar-tainted organs flood out of supermarkets and on to living room tables and park benches and other places where young Johnny is readily able to acquire said packaging and, to young Sally’s disgust, point out to her the dead baby’s doodle.
Post-mortem infantile appendages aside, the importance of freedom of expression in society can’t be ignored. As humans we reflect our conscious experiences via art, and communicate to each other those ineffable patterns of thought that are too easily misinterpreted and lost through passages of words and the limitations of the individual’s vocabulary. The overall flavour of our current generation is that, basically, shit’s getting hectic. With capitalism out of control, the time bomb of environmental catastrophe ticking away, and a large portion of us still grounded in the pre-enlightened psychological dependence on fictional entities (e.g. ‘god’), we need a free-flowing system of conscious interconnectedness more than ever. We need to unite – to promote bravery and open-mindedness and adaptability in a time of uncertain conditions. And there’s no better medium for this than our art, that which bridges the gap in language by stimulating us directly at the more primal, emotional level. Provided, of course, that our right to exercise and develop our ability as humans to interpret all of these things around us is upheld, unimpeded by those who would rather we didn’t ask questions.