An Mhurúch san Ospidéal
‘Mar mhagadh atá siad
Ach seo í an chuid
An bhanaltra a thug an nod di
Caithﬁdh tú foghlaim
Ins na míosa fada
© by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, all rights reserved. from The Fifty Minute Mermaid (Gallery Books, 2007)
Thank you to Gallery Press for allowing me to use this poem to celebrate Irish Women’s Poetry and translation on International Women’s Day 2012. The English translation of the poem is here.
Wherein the definition of art and who gets the imprimatur ?
I find myself at a loss regarding how the problem of blasphemy is being discussed in Cork. There has been no art-historical analysis of queer art, there has been little media reference to the issue of the 2006-2009 Defamation Bill, and discussion on one political site is limited to the idea that art should be subject to market-force and consumer popularity. Rather than to even attempt to deal with the paucity of discussion on this issue which is limited, unimaginative and striking in its poverty, I thought to look at the issue of leadership, or in this case, lack thereof.
There are two posts on Poethead concerned with context in Irish censorship, specifically the use of blasphemy as a means of censoring art, I refer to the issue of visual art and blasphemy in the historic sense in relation to the Rouault controversy, an Irish historical precedent for art censorship based in the accusation of blasphemy.
The charge against that painter (a Fauvist catholic) was of ‘blasphemy and incompetence‘, his art was refused exhibition solely because the fledgling government of the Irish State judged an incompetence in his expression. In the case of the queer art of Alma Lopez the complaint of blasphemy is quite clearly sited in an accusation of blasphemy based in representation. The Irish Government had apparently dropped the pairing of blasphemy with incompetence, and in the new Defamation Bill (2006-2009) has sited the offense of blasphemy in the ability to generate outrage.
There has not been much development in how our previous Government (FF/GN) viewed visual arts, or indeed publication. Ireland has supported international moves to abolish Defamation of Religions law , whilst codifying national laws which create a criminal offence for blasphemy. The history of the 2006-2009 Defamation bill is here . The necessity for a referendum in Ireland on blasphemy is here detailed.
It is quite clear that one can no longer bandy about terms like blasphemy in the realm of the visual and literary arts as an accusation (based in the ability of the artist to generate community outrage) it now carries with it a criminalisation. What interests and concerns me in the Cork debacle is that two leaders, (a bishop and a political leader) should know better than to use terms for which the Fianna Fáil and Green Government were roundly and globally criticised in introducing a Bill which both had denied would affect the arts.
An accusation or complaint of blasphemy will continue to affect visual arts until the issue of censorship is fully and openly discussed. The fact that the word blasphemy was so blithely and ignorantly applied to visual art , in this case the visual art of a gay woman, suggests to me that any discussion on blasphemy and the arts will not happen where it is supposed to happen , but on the airwaves by tub-thumping ill-educated commentators whose easy manipulation of emotive issues is wholly without context , either legal or art-historical.
This is how things are done in Ireland, the government will go to their holidays rather unconcerned at the lack of debate which pretty much reflects what happened in 2009 when the Defamation Bill was initially introduced.
In a glass specimen-jar in the Vatican Archives is one of
the blue bottle flies (Calliphora vormitoria), that festered
in Christ’s wounded side as He was taken down from
the Cross. In the catacombs of the fly’s eye is a moon
suspended in darkness. On this sphere is a single, mast-
like Crucifix , at the base of which is a simple white skull.
In the empty right eye socket are the three nails that
rivetted the body to the Cross. In the left socket, a new
weak sun rises once a year, its light colouring everything
the hue of the fox fur that was worn around the shoulders
of a 15th Century Cardinal as he stepped out into the
winter’s first snow, that made the marshes around Rome
look lunar. Across those marshes stole the shadow cast
by my figure , stitched into a crow costume that I made
from a thousand dead wings. Just then an arrow pierced
my side and I tumbled to the ground and waited for the
hunters to gather me up as flies began to nest in the wet
red ink of my wound. Then my bizarre, splayed form was
borne by torchlight and set in a giant jar amongst all the
other oddities and specimens in the Vatican Archives.
from , Whale , by Daragh Breen. Publ. November Press 2010.
The accompanying image is a still from David Wojnarowicz‘s A Fire in My Belly, which the Smithsonian Museum thought to ban on World Aids Day, bowing as some museums do to the pressure of certain mildly hysterical and somewhat uneducated Catholics. I have added the discussion links to the base of this short post.
It interests me greatly that David Wojnarowicz’s image would be considered controversial and/or blasphemic, given the visualism of Roman Catholic Art History and it’s burgeoning apocrypha. My first instinct regarding the banning was quite simple; no-one owns the intellectual property rights to human suffering, and the defacing or censoring of images generally does not work because these archetypes from whence such images are derived are indeed universal .
You may as well attempt to censor Luis Bunuel, Dali or the surrealists,as cave in to the pressure of people who do not understand the development of pictorial, or indeed three-dimensional images that have become apocryphal, but are there in our collective unconscious and our art history as guides and won’t just go away because someone screams blasphemy.
Indeed the problem of indelicacy in artistic representation of images that some people may consider to be in extremis visualisation has been the subject of discourse for centuries. Blasphemy and incompetence being charges against the very artists whose bone-close expression seems more to uncover a desire for ownership – rather than an understanding of visual art , or indeed of the messages conveyed by David Wojnarowicz , amongst others.
by Imtiaz Dharker.
One day they said
she was old enough to learn some shame.
She found it came quite naturally.
Purdah is a kind of safety.
The body finds a place to hide.
The cloth fans out against the skin
much like the earth that falls
on coffins after they put dead men in.
People she has known
stand up, sit down as they have always done.
But they make different angles
in the light, their eyes aslant,
a little sly.
She half-remembers things
from someone else’s life,
perhaps from yours , or mine –
carefully carrying what we do not own:
between the thighs, a sense of sin.
We sit still , letting the cloth grow
a little closer to our skin.
A light filters inward
through our bodies’ walls.
Voices speak inside us,
echoeing in the spaces we have just left.
She stands outside herself,
sometimes in all four corners of a room.
Wherever she goes , she is always
inching past herself,
as if she were a clod of earth,
and the roots as well,
scratching for a hold
between the first and second rib.
Passing constantly out of her own hands
into the corner of someone else’s eyes…
while doors keep opening
inward and again
Imtiaz Dharker “grew up a Muslim Calvinist in a Lahori household in Glasgow and eloped with a Hindi to live in Bombay”. This poem is taken from The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poetry (Ed, Jeet Thayil.) I will be linking the review of this book onto the about Poethead page, when it is published.
The image is from The Torture of Women, images by Nancy Spero and is linked at the bottom of this post.The most interesting thing about the Thayil edition is that women writers are collected and represented in that book. Those women poets’ voices are quite clear and lovely , rather than providing a simple passive objectification for someone else to write.