Q&A: Censorship (round two)

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MORE THOUGHTS ON CENSORSHIP

Having heard from Stephen Mayes, Julia Durkin and Pedro Meyer in ‘round one’ we now present the views of an artist and a photojournalist from Australia and a curator from Germany.

This Q&A series follows on from Alasdair Foster’s interview with Armani Nimerawi on the subject of censorship, CDC asked artists and colleagues around the world three questions:

  1. Have you ever been censored?
  2. Can you give an example of justified censorship?
  3. If you ruled the world… how would the issues that lead to censorship be addressed?

The responses, which are many and various, are being published on this site.

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Ute Noll

Ute Noll is the Founder of the agency called On Photography & Illustration and the Director of Uno Art Space in Stuttgart, Germany. She is a prolific arts writer, teacher and curator, and an established jury member of the annual Darmstadter Tage Der Fotografie international festival and a number of other international events. In 2010 she and Markus Schaden co-edited with Mark McPherson the major exhibition and book Hijack II: Australia & Germany [Big City Press, 2010].

Have you ever been censored?

I used to be picture editor for the weekend supplement of a German newspaper. In our editorial meetings, we sometimes discussed how far we could go in challenging our readers, who were very diverse and included kids as well as adults. From time to time we had to make decisions about images showing violence or torture for example.

Interestingly enough, the two images that the audience perceived to be most controversial were not those related to politics, the military or wars, but ones originally produced for the art world. And they were both presented in a section of the magazine devoted to the arts.

One image was made by the British photographer Rankin [John Rankin Waddell]. It showed a close-up of the mouths of an elderly couple kissing.

The other was created by the German photographer Holger Maass, and we published it on the front cover for Easter. It showed a young woman in a bikini being crucified on a cross made of flowers.

Can you give an example of justified censorship?

I don’t believe in censorship in the arts. That said, I do believe that even in the arts there are certain images that should not be circulated without some form of control. Here, I am meaning, for example, images that show serious violation of, or disrespect for, human beings whether these scenes were witnessed, staged or appropriated. Although an artist may originally select an image as a way of making a statement, to raise a question or as a starting point for discussion, I don’t think one should risk fast, easy and anonymous consumption by anyone and everyone via the internet. This is because these powerful images could very easily be taken completely out of context and used disrespectfully or simply voyeuristically.

If you ruled the world…

I am convinced that controversial images need to be shown. However, they must be controlled in some way. Maybe such images should be kept off the internet and restricted to physical space where they could be contextualised in diverse ways by the artist, the curator and experts in the field. Of course, it is always difficult to define what constitutes serious violation or disrespect, but we need to start this discussion somewhere.

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Scott Redford

Based in southern Queensland, Scott Redford is an internationally recognised artist who works across many media: photography, paint, sculpture, film and architectural maquette. Elements of popular culture play an important role as he draws on diverse sources such as surfing, popular music, celebrity promotion, urban design and gay pornography. Increasingly concerned with the ongoing struggle between high and low culture, his practice now includes writing incisive cultural criticism.

Have you ever been censored?

The funniest incident of censorship I experienced is in an Artlink issue on “Art, Pornography and Censorship”. Chris Chapman submitted an image by me of a page from a porn mag with some dots stencilled over parts of it. The magazine wouldn’t publish it. Instead they put in a black rectangle to represent the image, BUT felt the need (through guilt) to explain in a big caption their reasoning.

Can you give an example of justified censorship?

Artlink needed to make an issue that school libraries would stock. It is sometimes self-defeating to be ultra-Libertine. However it shows more and more how current art is living off the radicality of the early avant-garde, which is now over a century old. It also shows us that the ‘pluralism’ of the contemporary Western democratic State is pretence.

If you ruled the world…

Well, I can understand both sides. The only way to deal with such issues is to be transparent and detail how the system works. It’s the same with the art world. We all know everything is about power and money and career position, BUT everybody always talks about arty issues of beauty and ‘the political’ and not the real game that fuels art. Art is hegemony and it is a lie. MCA Australia, indeed!

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Stephen Dupont

Stephen Dupont has produced photo-essays from many of the world’s most dangerous regions: Afghanistan, Angola, Burma, Burundi, Cambodia, Iraq, Rwanda, Somalia and Zaire. His reportage has garnered a swathe of accolades including 1st places in the World Press Photo, Pictures of the Year International and the Walkleys. He has been awarded both the W. Eugene Smith Grant for Humanistic Photography and the Robert Gardner Fellowship at Harvard’s Peabody Museum.

Have you ever been censored?

There have been moments of censorship throughout my career; most notably political censorship.

Once, when leaving Tel Aviv Airport my films were deliberately ‘cooked’ by the X-ray machine because the Israeli authorities were worried that they did not know what I may have had on my unprocessed films.

Another time was in London at a ceremony for the Rory Peck Awards for cinematography. I was a finalist and, during the screening of my nominated footage of the Taliban burning incident back in 2005,* the most powerful footage was not shown to the audience; it was totally toned down and, I believe, presented outside the context of the truth. Maybe it had something to do with Sony being a sponsor, who knows.

Can you give an example of justified censorship?

Censorship is justified when it directly impacts on children in a negative or destructive way that may lead to harm. For example, child pornography should be censored, no questions asked.

If you ruled the world…

I would pull in the great minds of the arts and academic fields to create a blueprint international law that would be responsible for certain forms of censorship. There needs to be a clear demarcation globally on what should and should not be censored, otherwise the problems and controversies will never be resolved.

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footnote

* In 2005, while embedded with US 173rd Airborne in Afghanistan, Stephen Dupont videoed the burning by American troops of two slain Taliban fighters. While it is understood that the soldiers concerned were simply cremating the bodies as part of a hygiene protocol, the PsychOps division of the US army exploited the event in loudspeaker propaganda blasted across the valley, which taunted Afghan citizens about desecrating the bodies. It was also alleged though unsubstantiated that, before burning, the bodies had been re-arrange to face Mecca.  Under sharia law cremation is forbidden; bodies should be buried facing Mecca. Burning the bodies facing Mecca would have intensified the religious insult.

When the video was included in an Australian news broadcast there was worldwide media coverage of the incident. Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the act and called for an inquiry, while the Taliban called it an affront to Islam and urged Muslim countries to unite in their criticism. The Pentagon subsequently ordered an inquiry into the incident. Nonetheless, Stephen Dupont was clear in interviews that, in his view, the role of the soldiers burning the bodies and the use made of this act by PsychOps were not directly linked – the latter made opportunistic use of the former.

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Images:
© Rankin – image from the book ‘Snog’ [Vision On, 2000]
Part of a page from Artlink magazine (1998) explaining the non-publication of Scott Redford’s image
© Stephen Dupont ‘Burning Taliban’ 2005
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The lead article for this short season on censorship is ‘On Liberty and Censorship’, an interview by Armani Nimerawi with Alasdair Foster, sections of which were published in Capture magazine in May 2012.
You may also be interested Helen Grace’s 2004 interview with Alasdair Foster for ArtLink magazine, in which they discussed ‘Staring in the Dark’, an exhibition about artists who engage pornography.
Also related to this theme is the article written for The Bakery Art Centre in Perth: ‘Normality is not a Virtue’

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  • The majority of the texts on this site are by Alasdair Foster and represent his opinions. However, in order to facilitate a useful diversity of views, some texts have been invited from artists and colleagues around the world, while others appear as independent comments. These opinions and comments are not necessarily those of Alasdair Foster or Cultural Development Consulting (CDC). All data and information on this site is provided on an as-is basis. While every effort is made to be as thorough as possible, neither Alasdair Foster nor CDC make representations as to accuracy, completeness, currency, suitability or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.
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