Art wouldn’t be art if it wasn’t contentious, but to truly shock and awe, it must also be new and revolutionary.
The Brooklyn Museum’s latest “Christ” exhibit, depicting an ant-encrusted Jesus as part of a collection of gay identity portraiture, is neither provocative nor rebellious — nor new — even though the ho-hum archive defends it as “an expression of the artist’s outrage at indifference to human suffering.”
The museum and its supporters have rehashed the anti-Christian theme ad nauseam: In the late-1980s, a graduate of its art school emerged with “Piss Christ,” an image of a crucifix soaked in urine.
Museums exist to tickle consciousness and wonder, and while the Jesus-ant exhibit would certainly have pushed the envelope during the Crusades, today it is more irrelevant than irreverent.
By its own admission, the Brooklyn Museum “is committed to making its collections accessible to the widest possible audience.”
Jolly good. Then it should have no problem accommodating those of us who want to view some thought-provoking Islamic art. Its Islamic installations, to date, have been coy offerings meant to mollify than move mountains.
Its June 2009 exhibit, “Light of the Sufis: The Mystical Arts of Islam,” carefully omitted any mention of one of Sufism’s greatest proponents — Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, who once declared, “If you made a referendum for all the peoples of the world and asked them what is the most savage regime in the world, I believe that the vast majority, if not all of them, would say, America.”
Its long-term installation, “Arts of the Islamic World,” similarly reflects “a variety of inspirations and expressions,” but none that speak to Islam’s fanaticism.
The Brooklyn Museum needs some fresh blood on its walls, and Iranian artist and human rights activist Ahmed Mashhouri might be among the visionaries to provide it.
His 2009 portrayal of human suffering entitled, “It’s Not Forbidden to Think,” was removed by a museum in Norway, where the dissident lives in exile, after it was attacked by Muslims within hours of its installation. The dozen graphic images are accompanied by pleas and controversial Koranic quotes, including one of floating stones with the message, “Stop Islam. Islam has to stop killing people by stoning.” Another, graced by the word, “Allah,” depicts an outstretched hand wearing a bracelet of explosives.
The thorough cave-in disappoints Mashhouri: “I thought I [had come] to a country with freedom,” he states.
The Brooklyn Museum should also lead the charge with the work of Australian revisionist Sergio Redegalli, who has received death threats for a mural he painted outside his Sydney studio of a burqa-clad woman, bearing the slogan, “Say no to burqas.” The bold stunner has been vandalized more than 40 times, and Redegalli has restored it as many times to promote freedom and debate.
“I don’t believe bullies have the right to stand over people and deny us our freedoms,” he explains.
These fearless expressions by truly heroic artists chronicle the “outrage at indifference to human suffering” far better than another anachronistic exhibit hoping — beyond hope — to marginalize Christianity.