Illiberalism In The Art World, Ctd

by Dish Staff

Elizabeth Nolan Brown highlights a case of political correctness gone awry at the University of Iowa, where a sculpture of a Ku Klux Klansman was labeled “hate speech” and taken down because apparently the very shape of a racist symbol, even when used to make an anti-racist statement, is now deemed too offensive for college students to handle:

Created by Serhat Tanyolacar, a UI visiting professor and printmaking fellow, the klansman sculpture was decoupaged in newspaper coverage of racial tension and violence throughout the past 100 years. The piece was meant to highlight how America’s history of race-based violence isn’t really history and “facilitate a dialogue,” as Tanyolacar told university paper The Gazette. But no matter: After several hours, UI officials decided that the display was “deeply offensive” and needed to be removed. …

To me, this case provides a good reference point for why we shouldn’t curtail freedom of expression even when it comes from despicable groups like the Klu Klux Klan. When you start casting for exceptions to the First Amendment, you never know what kind of other speech—perhaps speech designed to address the very problems you’re fighting against—will get caught up in the net. Unfortunately, the kids and faculty at UI seem to have learned a different lesson: reacting to the statue as art or as a political statement was a reflection of cluelessness, insensitivity, and white privilege.

Tiffany Jenkins picks up on a similar trend of art censorship in Europe:

The travelling Exhibit B, by the white South African artist Brett Bailey, is a recreation of a human zoo from the 19th century that features 12-14 African performers from the host city and a choir of Namibian singers exhibited as artifacts. It’s meant to provoke a conversation about slavery, colonization, and present-day racism, but many protesters accuse it of being racist itself. In London in September, the Barbican pulled the entire run of Exhibit B after a petition calling on the arts center “not to display” the work achieved 22,988 signatories and criticized Exhibit B as “simply an exercise in white racial privilege.” …

Such debates aren’t new, of course, but there are important differences between the demands for censorship of the past and those of the present. Historically, those calling for censorship were often concerned that an artworkperhaps of a sexual naturewould have a coarsening effect and a negative moral impact. Today’s activists have a different rationale. They argue that they are the only ones who have the right to speak about the experience depictedand thus, have the right to silence those who have no comparable experience. So those protesting Exhibit B suggest they, as members of the black community, are the only ones who can create an artwork exploring slavery and colonization.

Previous examples of illiberalism in the art world here and here.