Gone are the dark days when Art deemed ‘offensive’ to society was subsequently banned. Or so we thought. In fact, the looming spectre of Censorship haunts us once more, in the wake of the passing of the anti-homosexuality bill in St Petersburg at the beginning of November; casting ominous conjectures as to the fate of the rich artistic landscape of Russia and other countries, if the blight of “political correctness” continues to be persuasive.
Marx warned that religion must be erased as an “illusory happiness of the people.” Art, however, does not fall under such a negative light: contrary to the perverse ideas of the Russian government, it should not be stifled as merely “propaganda.” Regrettably however, the banning of “inappropriate” Art and media internationally has increased.
Art – be it Literature, visual or performing, is liberating both for the artist and the receiver, enabling the assertion of a sense of self by way of the creative process. As Ian McLachlan, the co-creator of the upcoming pamphlet Confronting the Danger of Art comments, Art can be something of an escapist endeavour: “…it can be the role of the artist to offer us an alternative perspective…and in so doing, to free us to think or be something else.” As human beings we all have our unique way of perceiving the world: Art in all its forms gives us this freedom to explore ourselves and the universe as individuals, and thus we can come to affect our own self-expression in terms specific to us, through Art. Modern artists Tracey Emin and Daphne Todd are no strangers to this: both women deal with traumatic issues (feminine depression and grief after the loss of a parent) within their respective artworks but somehow reach clarity by using Art as a means of catharsis.
Additionally, the Arts are invaluable as an educative tool especially for those who remain ignorant of their exploitation. Indeed, the history itself illustrates Art’s positive educative effects, most especially seen through the French Revolution. In 1789, the clergyman Abbe Sieyes published a pamphlet entitled “What is the Third Estate?” attacking the unjust structures of the Ancien Regime; aimed at politicising the ignorant lower classes to claim their own rights against the over-privileged upper classes. One does wonder what France might be like today if a revolution had not occurred. We have Art to thank in part for that.
In recent years, as political correctness has become almost hysterical, more Art is being banned by governments anxious to prevent its messages subverting conventional thought. Most surprisingly, even Britain, as a westernised and democratic nation is guilty of this. In 2008, the now poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s poem “Education for Leisure” was removed from the GCSE English syllabus because its content promoted ‘knife-culture and violence’ to the outrage of teachers, students and other poets alike.
Similarly, quite recently there have been incidents of the censoring of Art and media, most notably in Russia. On November 26th 2011 an interactive installation piece entitled “The Stars Speak” by homosexual artist Vasily Klenov was ejected from an exhibition hall after Klenov refused to remove from the piece, terms insulting the Prime Minister Putin that a visitor had typed in. Equally, just this week, Italian clothes company Benetton were forced to retract an advert featuring the current Pope Benedict XVI kissing an Egyptian imam. The frequency of such bans is a worrying signal that individual creative license is on the rocks, and the proposed absolute ban of public homosexual expression or “propaganda” would be another nail in the coffin of artistic initiative.
Art will never cease to encapsulate the human condition and experience in society. Phil Cooper, also co-creator of “Confronting the Danger of Art” commented further on the Arts’ relevance to British society today: “the world is in a real state of flux at the moment…and it’s in these times that people need artistic expression.” Censorship needs to be overcome and resisted now. In the case of the Russian anti-homosexuality bill, we must not let any more talented Art be extinguished by a perceivably corrupt, homophobic government merely wishing to quench what they perceive as “deviance.” I would encourage you all to sign the LGBT international petition to obstruct this legislation, if Art means or has ever meant anything in your life.