Art and lies

Batten down the hatches, lock the doors: anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders wants to make a film! It’s bound to feature the Qur’an in ways that few Muslims would approve of, to put it mildly. But, as British comedian Catherine Tate would say: look at my face, am I bothered?

Any up-and-coming Hollywood star will tell you that the world of cinema is an unforgiving one. Maybe it’s shortsighted to rule out that there is a budding Scorsese or Coppola underneath that trademark hairdo. But still, I’d be surprised if Mr Wilders’ stab at making art turns out any more gripping than watching paint dry.

Now if Wilders is in a way – as the French would say – ‘de trop’, as far as I’m concerned Sooreh Hera is the nose on the great Durante. She’s an Iranian photographer working in the Netherlands, and a real professional too. Yet her works were withdrawn from an exhibition in The Hague last week, because the Municipal Museum considered them offensive.

Iranian homosexuals
The photographs show two Iranian homosexuals in a bedroom, wearing black-and-white masks to prevent recognition. The masks are of the prophet Muhammad and his son-in-law, Ali. Is that offensive? Oh, undoubtedly. Is it art? My answer would be ‘yes’.

I like the way the mask’s curvy lines emphasize the curved shoulder of the figure in the foreground, making him look unexpectedly feminine despite his bulging muscles. I like the way light and colour are used to capture the no man’s land between shame and sensuality. It makes the photographs so much more than just a political pamphlet.

Outstanding photographer
Museum director Wim van Krimpen has acknowledged that Sooreh Hera is an outstanding photographer. But, he says, he won’t show the photographs all the same… because he doesn’t trust her intentions.

Excuse me? Since when does art have anything to do with trust? Do we know for instance what Rembrandt’s intentions were when he painted the Nightwatch? Do we care if he was a penny-pinching fraud who secretly made fun of the dignitaries he portrayed? Surely Wim van Krimpen’s job is to determine what is art and what isn’t, not whether the artist is the kind of person you’d buy a second-hand car from.

It reminds me of Gerard Reve, long considered one of the Netherlands’ greatest living writers and now one of our greatest dead ones. In what has come to be known as the donkey trial’, he had to defend himself in court for writing about a tryst with Jesus… reincarnated as a donkey… that Reve has sex with… not one but three times… and from behind, too… although I suppose that with a donkey there isn’t much choice.

Anyway, after being gloriously acquitted by the High Court in 1968, Reve famously remarked that from that moment, the intentions of artists would be safe from over-interpreting and narrow-minded members of the public. Well, I’m glad he was better at writing literature than at making predictions…

Jesus the gay donkey
These days of course, we’re more likely to get worked up about Muhammad the teddy bear than about Jesus the gay donkey. Although a new Hollywood film came in for a torrent of criticism from the Roman Catholic Church this week. The Golden Compass is based on an award winning children’s book by British writer Philip Pullman, whose soft Oxford voice and gentle manners hide a fierce and uncompromising intelligence, as I found out when I interviewed him some years ago.

In his book, the Catholic Church and religious fanaticism are the bad guys. That’s all been expertly neutralized in the film so as not to give offence. But Church leaders in the US were calling for a boycott anyway. Because, they said, after seeing the film children might just want to read the book…

And here I was thinking that any film that encourages children to read at all these days deserves a big fat prize! These are strange times indeed, when museum directors would rather not exhibit works of art and parents would rather not have their children discover the joys of reading.

Sooreh Hera may well be a pathological attention seeker, Philip Pullman an anti-religious bigot and Gerard Reve might have been a big fat pervert with a fetish for ungulates. All artists are liars anyway, and a fair few of them throughout history have been drunks, cheapskates and good-for-nothings. But art doesn’t lie; it only asks that you judge for yourself.

For more information: www.radionetherlands.nl

 

Art and lies
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