First up some brief housekeeping announcements:
Footstepszine barely even represents her own views never mind those of any organisation…..i’ve struggled with the contradiction between wanting to discuss things I encounter through work and having a private medium to write and discuss in (i’ve posted about it more extensively here) and guess what…. i can’t resolve it.
If you think i’m being paranoid: i probably am, a bit, but i do think of what happened with @baskers and sometimes I do worry. I don’t want to get sidetracked thinking about privacy too much now, but I would say please always think before you credit me with Footsteps by name……
Also if the fire alarm does sound, we’re not expecting a drill so you will need to leave the building.
Where was I? I was talking about equality wasn’t I? I believe we are still living in a vastly unequal society; and where other people will point you in the direction of statistics; i say take a quick look at the dominance of a group of rich white men who are currently running the shop in this country. I believe people are still discriminated against directly and indirectly on the grounds of race, religion, class, gender, sexuality, disability etc etc and that this is not ok. Some people do not like you talking about this.
I’ve spent my life being the one who fights with her extended family when they come out with the classic ‘I’m not racist, but….<insert racist bullshit here>’, the one who gets all po-faced and lectures you on why it’s not funny to use ‘gay’ as an insult or points out that certain people’s stories are missing from out cultural institutions and repositories, and why it really, really matters. Juliet Jacques once described herself as the personification of ‘political correctness gone mad’: sometimes I know how she feels.
But I’m having trouble with offense. And offense and how it fits with art. Because if it is now an offence under the Equality Act ‘to create an intimidating, offensive or hostile environment’ (because of certain protected characteristics), and if this ‘environment’ can be read in the context of a gallery of public exhibition space (and I have seen this happen) this potentially leaves public art in a very difficult place.
So you get stories of galleries being asked to take down work featuring women kissing because it is offensive to a person’s religion, only others who are gay being offended at it’s removal. Here two different protected characteristics are in conflict with each other. Then you get art like this being removed because it’s use of the phrase ‘Get down white boy’ was deemed too provocative and offensive even in the context of an retrospective exhibition of propaganda images.
I have no idea of how this would actually play out in a court situation: no one wants to be the test case, and the easiest solution is to remove the offending material before anything gets out of hand.
Art can be offensive. And what’s more sometimes it damn well should be.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not talking about pissing people off for the sake of it; if I was around in the 70’s I wouldn’t have been one of those punks who wore swastikas. And I know dismissing offensive experience can be the easiest thing in the world to do from a position of privilege. I remember when the EDL came to Bradford there was some well to do bloke on Radio Four, going on about how the Asian community shouldn’t pay any attention to them when they came to town and started smashing things up and screaming abuse, which you know, is kinda fine for some well to do guy in Kent to say.
But art should shake things up. And maybe one way it does that is by showing things about the world which people don’t want to look at, don’t want to talk about, feelings that they don’t want to feel and thoughts they don’t want to think. Things that offend them, things that aren’t part of their world view.
Because sometimes the truth is ugly. Look at the shaky footage of Belsen, or the stories that came out with Fritzl, or narratives of rape and torture and abuse that came out of the British slave trade which helped to build some of our cities, look at the news day in day out and tell me that the truth isn’t ugly. That the world isn’t f’ing offensive…..And maybe you do want art that isn’t offensive, that doesn’t engage with the world in any real way, maybe you just want something nice to hang up your luxury apartment wall and make you feel sophisitcated….But I’d say that isn’t art…. it’s interior design…..
Maybe there is a large contradiction: that I’m blunting stabbing at but not really getting to; between smoothing over issues and of shaking them up. Because with people taking offense and the implications this now apparently has it may seem easier not to talk about race, or disability or gender at all. But the issues that underlie this taking of offense don’t vanish because you take the provocative material away. Not talking about tension doesn’t make it disappear, it just festers away ignored until it one day explodes….