Five challenges to artistic freedom

© UNESCO

Violations of international human rights conventions

To some it was good news when the universal right to freedom of expression, including creative and artistic expression, was reaffirmed in a joint statement by 57 states at the Human Rights Council Session 30 on 18 September 2015. In reality it was really bad news that less than a third of all UN member states were supportive. All UN Member State should respect international human rights conventions and the rule of law. Speaking on behalf of the original 53 States joining the statement (some of which actually do violate those rights), the Ambassador of Latvia, Jānis Kārkliņš, told the Council:

“In addition to being an integral part of the protected human right to freedom of expression, artistic and creative expression is critical to the human spirit, the development of vibrant cultures, and the functioning of democratic societies. Artistic expression connects us all, transcending borders and barriers. Artistic expression can challenge us and change the way we view the world.”

The major challenge is to convince all States to respect international conventions.

Repression by non-state actors

Even if all Member States of the UN did respect the right to artistic freedom, unfortunately huge regions of the world are controlled and suppressed by non-state actors such as Daesh/IS, Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram.

Their attitude toward artistic expressions is that of total control, total condemnation and total repression to any expression that they dislike. This poses a major threat to artistic freedom and the right for citizens to access artistic expressions.

Nationalism and religious orthodoxy

Nationalism and religious orthodoxy is spreading in many parts of the world – in the North as well as in the South, East and West. Controlling the minds and expressions of people is based on fear, and the tool of control is spreading more fear, leading to self-censorship, and to stereotyping of ‘the other’ whether these ‘others’ are cultural, religious, sexual or social minorities.

Behind messages such as ‘protecting our culture and nation’ and ‘protecting our moral values’, lies the fear of diversity of expressions, opinions and creativity. Has the world not learned anything from Hitler’s ‘Entartete (degenerate) art’ campaigns?

Lack of solidarity

Journalists all over the world support their colleagues through national, regional and international networks. Freedom of expression is built into the “DNA” of most journalists. That DNA does not come naturally to artists and artists’ organizations. Very few national artist’s organizations, international umbrella organizations and members of the well-endowed culture industry address artistic freedom violations. Even fewer support their colleagues – PEN International who support authors being the large exception as many members of PEN are creative writers. The documentation of violations and advocacy for artistic freedom is predominately made by human rights and freedom of expression organizations such as Freemuse.

Insufficient monitoring

Artistic freedom violations are underreported in many countries due to fear, self-censorship and repression. Attracting funding to support documentation is almost impossible, with some exceptions such as from the Government of Sweden. Donors tend to support media and internet freedom, and the small number of people dedicated to documenting violations of artistic freedom and advocating for it can easily be counted. This is a huge challenge

http://artsfreedom.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Freemuse-Annual-Statistics-Art-Under-Threat-2015.pdf

 

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256 Million Colours of Violence, 2016

Visit the project: http://www.256millioncoloursofviolence.com

256 Million Colours of Violence is a survey based interactive archival research project that asks the participants to choose a colour that to them represents violence. The project started as a response to the specific events unfolding after the Malegaon Blasts 1 (2006, India). Now, a decade after the event, this response has grown to encompass several other events in a world that is radically changing.

An inquiry into colour can lead to multiple directions. Colour is troubled light – a violently oscillating frequency entering our optical system that is translated by the visual cortex of our brain. When Newton split light into the visible colour spectrum it was science.Colours have become symbolic of emotions and thoughts, taking on animate qualities and connotations that surpass their scientific properties. Colour is a central feature of social life yet its value in sociological theory is ambiguous. Colour in its perception is familiar and intuitive and subjective in its meaning where we seldom understand it beyond the parameters of our own consentual social reality.

The relationship between colour and perception is fundamental, and this project is an attempt to dismantle our selves through our understanding of colour. Perception is informed by Context. The human eye is capable of distinguishing millions of colours, but total objective colour acuity is a skill more rarified than perfect pitch (the ability to identify a single musical note without accompaniment). Most of us need context in order to make accurate colour recognition but when coupled with the proper context, we notice very subtle differences in hue, lightness, and intensity.

Colour and its perception are an unstable and contestable phenomenon shaped by personal memory and social and material factors. Similarly, Violence and its perception are an unstable and contestable phenomenon shaped by social and material factors. When colour is coupled with a subject as topical as violence, we probably have a deeply personal and unique emotional response to it. Most of us, having a sufficiently distinct understanding of things could probably assign a colour value in terms of a quick interface of the emotional quotient associated with it. This often cannot be verbalised but may be linked to a sensory memory or association – this kind of attribution is done not as an intuitive understanding but rather as a Pavlovian learning 2 or an acquired understanding. Despite having no inherited political value, colour can be made political through a sequence of contextual references. Colour can become a complex dataset presenting a person’s nuanced understanding of the world. The format of the survey is intended to gather this understanding.

Most Data mining exercises and empirical scientific surveys require a culled group in order to eradicate diversity, a standardisation of the test group to remove ‘noise’. ‘256 Million Colours of Violence’ is a celebration of that noise which represents the diversity of Human experience and collective memetic history. It is also part of an ongoing discourse to reduce effects of stereo-typification through personal scrutiny of the word and meanings of ‘Violence’ by asking how is the narrative experience of colour embodied, embedded and extended in the contexts of these meanings.

The aim of the Project is also to make the participant aware, or conscious of his/her decision regarding their choice by embedding it within series of contexts. Choice here is an active participation as well as a subliminal interfacing of several seemingly disconnected values.

Political parties and media are comfortable with the political position of attributing ‘no colour’ on religious, community or ideology based acts of violence so as to avoid issues of colour associations and its apparent, actual or perceived impacts on society. The inherent logic of the project takes their view and reverses it by stating that “Violence has a colour – it is a value of an acquired understanding unique to each individual.” The project is an artist experiment based on no previous survey or standardisation. The choice of the participants are purely their own, which is to say formed by unique combination of various elements such as parenting, religion, gender, social circles, peer group and education to name a few.

The project is addressing the notion of freely given information, conditional agreements and consent – to corporations and governments, as opposed to an artist project; that an artist may be require to profile its participants in itself seems like a joke. The survey hints at issues pertaining to equality of gender, skin colour, race and ethnicity; questions privilege, social class and problems of minimum income as well as confronts through inquiry the political-religious-socio-economic quadrangle as a constant existence in our lives today. It also acts as an introductory archive of several streams of information, and as such occupies a paradoxical position making the viewer/participant both the giver and receiver of information, if they so wish.

To this end, the viewer/participant is confronted with a question:

What according to you is a colour of violence?

If I ask you this question, chances are that you already have a colour in mind. It’s probably a very strong colour, resonating with intensity of how important this question may be to you. You probably have a specific colour in mind, you just need to pinpoint it specifically to lock it down – to triangulate its position on the map of the colour chart, as it were.

This might be easy to do in a palette of 8, or 16, or even 64 shades. As a choice, it may even fit into a colour that may be generic template for the question – but what happens if you are confronted with a digital palette of 256 million colours 3? Is your particular tint/shade/hue the exact same tint/shade/hue as the one you had in your mind – is your black / saffron / green / white / red the same as another’s?

Ali Akbar Mehta
2016


    1. The Indian Connection – The Malegaon Bomb Blasts, 2006 and ‘Saffron Terror’:
      Saffron terror is a neologism used to describe acts of violence motivated by Hindu nationalism. The acts are allegedly perpetrated by members, or alleged members of Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Abhinav Bharat. However, in some cases the motivation for the acts has not been clearly determined, and in others it has been determined to be unrelated to Hindu nationalism. The term comes from the symbolic use made of the saffron color by the Hindu nationalist organisations.
      The first known use of the term ‘Saffron Terror’ is from a 2002 article in Frontline. However it was in the aftermath of the 29 September 2008 bomb blast in the predominantly Muslim town of Malegaon in Maharashtra that it came to be used widely. In late 2008, Indian police arrested members of a Hindu terrorist cell allegedly involved in Malegaon blast. The blame for several of these attacks had been placed on radical Islamist groups.
      Former Home Minister of India P. Chidambaram urged Indians to beware of “Saffron terror” in August 2010 at a meeting of state police chiefs in New Delhi.
      Since that remark was made, a Hindu Swami in the Patan district has filed a defamation lawsuit against Chidambaram, saying that the saffron color is symbol of Hindu religion and that saints across the country wear attire of the same color. The Swami also said that saffron was a symbol of peace, sacrifice and God, and that Chidambaram has hurt the sentiments of Hindus by linking the symbol with terrorism. On 6 September 2010, a Gujarat court ordered a probe into the use of the term by Chidambaram. Chidambaram was also criticised by members of his own party (the Indian National Congress) for the use of the term.
      “Saffron or bhagwa or kesariya (Hindi equivalents of saffron) is not the issue here. The issue is terrorism. Terrorism does not have any colour other than black,” said Janardan Dwivedi, Congress general secretary and head of the party’s media department.
      Making plain the party’s disapproval of Chidambaram’s controversial formulation, Dwivedi said terrorism could not be associated with any color, “be it saffron, green, white or red”. He further said, “Terrorism is terrorism and should be opposed in whatever form it comes.” Significantly, he also stressed that “saffron colour has been part of our ancient tradition and is associated with our freedom struggle”.
      Home minister P Chidambaram did not exactly use the phrase ‘saffron terrorism’ but made it clear it was not his patent and in the past UPA and Congress leaders have found it quite expedient to refer to ‘saffronisation of education’ to target the previous NDA government.
      While vowing that he would follow the ‘party line’ as supreme, the minister said there were right-wing extremist groups and the message that they could be capable of violence should not be lost in phrases. He said, “Perhaps the use of that phrase has brought home the message. So, the purpose, in a way, has been served.”
    2. A method to cause a reflex response or behaviour by training with repetitive action. The Russian physiologist Ivan Petrovich Pavlov conditioned dogs to respond in what proved to be a predictable manner.
    3. Photoshop has a digital palette of 256 Million Colours.

Narrating War: Performance excerpt, Pispala, Tampere, Finland, 2016

This reading from the book took place at The Memorial of the Red Guards, who died during the Finnish Civil War in Pispala, Tampere. The inscription in the stone says, ‘On this Pispala ridge, the Red Guard in Tampere last stood with weopans in hand defending their cause in 1918’.

The project is ongoing and a copy of the book in its current state is donated to the Pispala Library on the occasion of the exhibition, ‘Where does poetry nest?’, on 6th September, 2016 in memory of the over 5000 year old Civil War that the world, it seems, has not seen enough of.

Ali Akbar Mehta

 

  Missä runous pesii? | Where does poetry nest?
                  08­28.09.2016
Poetry—an everlasting inquiry of art, drives language outside its
borders. Poetry sets into play every possible moment of
signification by placing the exercise of imagination at the center
of all contradictions. Poetry as an aesthetic praxis outlines our
possibilities to challenge the everyday, locating potential
transformation at the centre of our political enunciations. Poetry
contradicts and slips between the cracks of meaning, propagating
evidence that something else is there. In its intimacy, it draws
complex figures from our emotions, just to blur them into new and
old unreachable impossibles, to keep us moving, desiring.

If we listen to poetry carefully, we realise that it is something social. Its sociality is voiced as a constant transgression to the de politicised forms of enunciation; these poetic echoes keep on challenging every space of retreat. Poetry captures tautology and pushes it to the edges. Since there is no purity in poetry, it confronts general assumptions with a subtle whistle that triggers a dance of our subjectivities, nude and broken out in sweat. There is nothing too radical for poetry; even if something has already been said before, it can always be said differently.

Poetry is looking back at us from the other end laughing,
flirting, fugitive.

Poetry grounds utopia not as something reachable, but as a practice for keeping the unreachable present. Inhabiting between sentences, it bears testimony that other histories have always been present, through gluing their words together. Within it, art becomes our interlocutor for these other histories, always rebelling, always demanding justice and dignity, driven by the air which feeds change. Another history which finds in every wall not a border, but a place for public denouncement and mobilisation.

Where does poetry nest? It is not a question asking for an answer,
but a question mark waiting to be followed.
D.M.
[*] The Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros recalled this question during his
time in Lecumberri prison: “Where does poetry nest? I can’t say how long ago this
question emerged within me. But it reemerged when I listened to Macario Huízar. And
the first time I followed it through to interrogation was in prison among a group
of dopers.”

The Punk in Cyberpunk

Cyberpunk literature, in general, deals with marginalized people in technologically-enhanced cultural ‘systems’. In cyberpunk stories’ settings, there is usually a ‘system’ which dominates the lives of most ‘ordinary’ people, be it an oppressive government, a group of large, paternalistic corporations, or a fundamentalist religion. These systems are enhanced by certain technologies (today advancing at a rate that is bewildering to most people), particularly ‘information technology’ (computers, the mass media), making the system better at keeping those within it inside it. Often this technological system extends into its human ‘components’ as well, via brain implants, prosthetic limbs, cloned or genetically engineered organs, etc. Humans themselves become part of ‘the Machine’. This is the ‘cyber’ aspect of cyberpunk. However, in any cultural system, there are always those who live on its margins, on ‘the Edge’: criminals, outcasts, visionaries, or those who simply want freedom for its own sake. Cyberpunk literature focuses on these people, and often on how they turn the system’s technological tools to their own ends. This is the ‘punk’ aspect of cyberpunk.

On Walter Benjamin

Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin

(15 July 1892 – 26 September 1940)

was a German Jewish philosopher and cultural critic. An eclectic thinker, combining elements of German idealism, Romanticism, historical materialism, and Jewish mysticism, Benjamin made enduring and influential contributions to aesthetic theory, literary criticism, and Western Marxism.

He is thought to have been associated with the Frankfurt School, but this is not true, unless in relation to the importance of his thinking on Theodore Adorno, and formative friendships with thinkers such as Bertolt Brecht and Gershom Scholem.

Benjamin’s major work as a literary critic included essays on Baudelaire, Goethe, Kafka, Kraus, Leskov, Proust, Walser, and translation theory. He also made major translations into German of the Tableaux Parisiens section of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal and parts of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. He wrote on Popular culture, Drama, Theatre, Fim, Art and Language. Among Benjamin’s most prominent works are the essays “The Task of the Translator” (1923) and “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936).

Benjamin talks about Wahrheitsehalt (Truth Content – to work) ans Sachsehalt (thingly or object content – pertaining to life) as opposites. Truth content refers to what makes something a ‘True’ work of Art. It is both eternal as well as made up of fragments, ie. it Is a meta-composite truth.

There is no aesthetic refraction without something being refracted; no imagination without something imagined. This holds true particularly in the case of art’s immanent purposiveness. In its relation to empirical reality art sublimates the latter’s governing principle of sese conservare as the ideal of the self-identity of its works; as Schoenberg said, one paints a painting, not what it represents. Inherently every artwork desires identity with itself, an identity that in empirical reality is violently forced on all objects as identity with the subject and thus travestied. Aesthetic identity seeks to aid the non-identical, which in reality is repressed by reality’s compulsion to identity. Only by virtue of separation from empirical reality, which sanctions art to model the relation of the whole and the part according to the work’s own need, does the artwork achieve a heightened order of existence. Artworks are afterimages of empirical life insofar as they help the latter to what is denied them outside their own sphere and thereby free it from that to which they are condemned by reified external experience. Although the demarcation line between art and the empirical must not be effaced, and least of all by the glorification of the artist, artworks nevertheless have a life sui generis. This life is not just their external fate. Important artworks constantly divulge new layers; they age, grow cold, and die. It is a tautology to point out that as humanly manufactured artifacts they do not live as do people.

–Theodore Adorno on Truth content, Aesthetic Theory

 

Benjamin uses or refers to several symbols to explain this:

The Hunchback

The Dwarf:

‘…the dwarf under the table, is time, who is always winning’.

The Angel of history:

Embodies Benjamin’s idea of catasrophe in continuum. Catastrophe is entropic in nature. ‘The Angel of history is standing with wings open, with its back to the future… the winds of future anre carrying it continously forward’.

Benjamin refers to Jeztziet ‘The Now moment’, or the standstill

The Gate:

Future in context of the Jews.

‘…every second is a narrow gate through which the messiah can enter’.

The Tigerleap

Walter Benjamin corresponded much with Theodor Adorno and Bertolt Brecht, and was occasionally funded by the Frankfurt School under the direction of Adorno and Horkheimer, even from their New York City residence. The competing influences—Brecht’s Marxism, Adorno’s critical theory, Scholem’s Jewish mysticism—were central to his work, although their philosophic differences remained unresolved. The intellectual range of Benjamin’s writings flows dynamically among those three intellectual traditions, deriving a critique via juxtaposition; the exemplary synthesis is Theses on the Philosophy of History.

In the “Concept of History” Benjamin also turned to Jewish mysticism for a model of praxis in dark times, inspired by the kabbalistic precept that the work of the holy man is an activity known as tikkun. According to the kabbalah, God’s attributes were once held in vessels whose glass was contaminated by the presence of evil and these vessels had consequently shattered, disseminating their contents to the four corners of the earth. Tikkun was the process of collecting the scattered fragments in the hopes of once more piecing them together. Benjamin fused tikkun with the Surrealist notion that liberation would come through releasing repressed collective material, to produce his celebrated account of the revolutionary historiographer, who sought to grab hold of elided memories as they sparked to view at moments of present danger.

– Margaret Cohen, Cambridge Companion to Walter Benjamin

The Origin of German Tragic Drama, 1928, is a critical study of German baroque drama, as well as the political and cultural climate of Germany during the Counter-Reformation (1545–1648). Benjamin presented the work to the University of Frankfurt in 1925 as the (post-doctoral) dissertation meant to earn him the qualification to become a university instructor in Germany.

Professor Schultz found The Origin of German Tragic Drama inappropriate for his Department of German Language and Literature, and passed it to the Department of Aesthetics (philosophy of art), the readers of which likewise dismissed Benjamin’s work. The faculty, among them Max Horkheimer, recommended that Benjamin withdraw The Origin of German Tragic Drama s as a Habilitation dissertation to avoid formal rejection and public embarrassment. He heeded the advice, and three years later, in 1928, he published The Origin of German Tragic Drama as a book.

He presented his stylistic concerns in The Task of the Translator, wherein he posits that a literary translation, by definition, produces deformations and misunderstandings of the original text. Moreover, in the deformed text, otherwise hidden aspects of the original, source-language text emerge, while previously obvious aspects become unreadable. Such translational mortification of the source text is productive; when placed in a specific constellation of works and ideas, newly revealed affinities, between historical objects, appear and are productive of philosophical truth.

He states that Everything has a language except nature; if nature could speak, it would immediately begin its lament.

Walter Benjamin’s writings identify him as a modernist for whom the philosophic merges with the literary: logical philosophic reasoning cannot account for all experience, especially not for self-representation via art.