Monday, 19 April 2010

when art and culture collide

so there's this father complaining about the statues at hamilton's te parapara garden (aka the maori garden, at hamilton gardens, cobham drive). his complaint is about the penises being too large, and him feeling uncomfortable about his children being confronted with these carvings. he somehow doesn't mind european art because the penises are smaller. hmm. i think it's best to leave this mine of humour untouched (though i'm sorely tempted).

then there's the gratuitous use of muslim families at the end of the piece, none of whom appear to be complaining themselves, but our erstwhile father seems to feel concern on their behalf. (um, we'd rather speak for ourselves when and where we need to, kthxbai). for those who are unfamiliar with this usage, let me explain it to you. our complainant is saying "see, i'm so culturally sensitive that i care about muslims. this means i can't possibly be accused of being culturally insensitive in complaining about these particularly carvings.

there is much mirth about this on facebook and the predictable penis jokes (mostly by blokes BTW, to ward off our trolls). but it led me off on a tangent, thinking about a teenage girl who stopped studying art in the 3rd form purely because of such graphic depictions. she wasn't ok with the european art being graphic either. in fact i know of more than one young person in this category.

of course we can tell such young people to suck it up (sorry, unfortunate turn of phrase there, but i just couldn't resist) and get with the local culture, appreciate the beauty of the human form etc etc. but for those who really don't feel comfortable and aren't interested in becoming comfortable with this kind of thing, their punishment is to not have access to art at school. this seems to me to be a rather harsh punishment, particularly if you love art and have talent.

i'm wondering if there is scope to have something suitable for such young people, because i hate to think of the talent being lost. there are, of course, a whole lot of cultural issues mixed in with this, and considerable scope for offence to be caused by those who take offence at other people's artistic expression. i understand that. but i also think that people should have the choice to study art in a different way, if that's what they feel most comfortable with.

or maybe this one just needs to be filed in the too hard basket.


Boganette said...

In terms of the Hamilton dick guy - totally agree. The "Muslim family" comment was unbelievable. I think he came across as a complete knob (I know) and I'm amazed that he found a journalist who cared about his willy phobia.

If he's offended by carved dicks he has problems. It is just weird to be worried about how big the balls are on a carving. It's a freakin' carving FFS.

I don't know why when his kids asked him about the carvings he didn't talk to them about Maori culture and art or something. I mean surely you want to encourage your kids to ask questions if you're taking them to look at Maori carvings in a public place.

Though I doubt his kids were freaked at all. He was probably just offended on their behalf - just like he's offended on behalf of 'Muslim families'.

Trouble said...

Studying (Western) art without nudity would be like studying Western art without the colour blue. Or Christianity. Sure, you could do it, but would it be worth it leaving out a big chunk on such arbitrary grounds? Art from various non-Western cultures has different rules - the beautiful geometric shapes and arabesques in Muslim architecture for example. But naked humans have been the subject of art for 15,000 years. It's not just local culture.

I can understand young people feeling uncomfortable about their changing bodies and responses to those of others. But I can't get in behind any attempt to censor art, or come up with a bowdlerised version for young people. That being said, I might leave Egon Schiele out of the curriculum until they're a bit older.

I can't help recalling the frank appreciation of art historian Sister Wendy for the human body, the last thing you'd expect for an elderly Catholic nun but there you go.

I wonder if the complaining guy has ever seen Herma. Here's a random pillar, it looks a bit plain, why don't we put some genitals on it? Can't see him complaining to the Greeks about it.

sophie said...

"too hard basket"

As a young art student, I could cope with the nudity (in spite of my very restrained upbringing) but my mother felt compelled to forbid me from studying art because of it.

I sometimes wonder how many other teenagers with great enthusiasm and talent are denied their art for this reason.

stargazer said...

good point sophie. i wonder if the option of more restrictive art classes in your case might have worked as well - you at least get to study art, and catch up on the stuff later, either when your parents are more comfortable with it or when your old enough to just go ahead and do it anyway. that way, you don't miss out completely. obviously not an ideal from your point of view, but just a possibility.

another incident i'm reminded of is a migrant woman (not muslim, if it matters) who was quite involved with painting in her country of origin. when she got here, she took up art classes but her art teacher was really dismissive of the kind of thing she was doing, something along the lines of how it wasn't contemporary & no-one here does that kind of stuff. she found it really difficult to deal with and quite off-putting.

i don't want to extrapolate from a single anecdote, and really i know nothing much about art or the study of art. just wondering if there are predominantly euro-centric views out there, and whether or not that has been a significant barrier for cultural minorities. would love to hear from someone who actually does know about these things.

sophie said...

I enjoyed the art classes I took in Hamilton - very individual with everyone working on completely different projects, the tutor was strong on encouraging unrestraint. I'm probably not in a position to comment on Euro-centric-ness (being a Scot myself), but about the only thing I remember was that it was considered a real success if a student whose work had been tight and controlled started getting messier, faster, bigger in scope.

I've had teachers praise one style while others totally hate it and praise another aspect of the work. I've heard of people put off art for life by one critical teacher.
Art, like writing, you put a lot of yourself out there, public for people to see. That is scary.

Violet said...

Are you sure its not just a penis-size thing? Because I would probably feel more threatened by an over-size penis than by a tiddly one.

stargazer said...

it was indeed the size thing that most upset the complaining father. if you look at the pictures in the article i linked to, you'll see they're a pretty significant part of the carving.