Saturday, May 29, 2010

Shapiro Cartoon; an artist's response.

Anon., pub. William Peake, text by John Vicars. The pope seated on the seven -headed beast of Rome 1643. (Carey F 2000. The Apocalypse. London. The British Museum Press.)

The pope is represented as the Whore  of Babylon or 'Rome's Whore' uttering Babylonish blasphemies', riding the seven-headed Beast of Rome. Though the Pope is the ostensible subject it would have been read, in this early stage of the Civil War, as an attack on the court and Church of England. This high-quality print shows knowledge of earlier German and Netherlandish prints, and may have been made by a Dutch or Flemish engraver.    

Our democracy as endorsed by our liberal and inclusive constitution, came about through the endeavours and sacrifices of many of its citizens, not just because of international sanctions, lengthy prison sentences and the murders of political activists (martyrdom), but for the purpose of this blog entry, all the creative endeavours of artists, photographers, musicians, playwrights, graffiti artists, authors and last but not least, the role of cartoonists and satirists such as Peter Dirk Uys .

There are few places on this continent and in the rest of the world, that every citizen, irrespective of his or her sexual orientation and or cultural belief, can live side by side (as neighbours) on equal terms. Religion has for many years in this country prescribed to all its citizens, their moral obligation, as part of the education and legal system, irrespective of the citizen's religious affiliation and or cultural and personal spiritual belief (Christian education). Change does not occur by virtue of  complacency. Individuals with the courage and creative tools in every discipline, continue to play their part, ensuring a thriving and developing democracy. Each and every citizen can however rest assured, for now, that they are protected by the constitution. Any effort by religious fanatics and or fundamentalists trying to enforce their particular moral and cultural beliefs on others, in any form whatsoever, will be considered a violation of basic human rights.  We have fought hard and long for our democracy – long shall it live.

Not just one cartoon, but thousands upon thousands of cartoons, paintings, songs, plays, documentaries, photographs and sculptures including murals and graffiti contributed to the  struggle; the freedom we enjoy today.  This blog entry is therefore a reaction to the issues raised in the following news paper articles, written in response to Shapiro’s cartoon. Below are extracts of the articles, followed by further comments by the artist .

Matthias Gerung (c. 1500-70) Pope and Turk as demons drag their followers into Hell, c. 1545-8. Woodcut, 234 x 164mm.

Insulting other people’s religion only causes hurt. Article written by KC Bening as cited in the Star Tuesday May 25  2010.
The Mail and Guardian and Zapiro have crossed the line of decency this time with the publication of a cartoon depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad, something which is deeply hurtful and offensive to Muslims. Relgion is the embodiment of many people’s very being which all decent folk should respect, and being a world-class satirist doesn’t give Zapiro carte blanche to desecrate a religious order with what that grouping considers blasphemy.
There is no such thing as absolute freedom of expression. Everyone has their boundaries which we learn on our parent’s knees. As small children we learn to respect other people’s cultural and religious sensibilities and to be respectful of society’s mores concerning such things as profane language.
No political, religious or social order should be able to skulk under veil of privileged protection when their actions contravene common or international law, violates the SA constitution, or impinges on the safety of other citizens. Anything else, such as the insensitive insulting of other people’s religions, when they have not broken any laws, should be considered in the same vein as hate speech. It achieves nothing, except to inflame and cause more hurt in our already volatile society.
Cartoon was in good taste. Article by S Manjra cited in the Star Tuesday May 25  2010.
Unlike the Danish cartoons, Zapiro’s was in good taste and without the degree of irreverence that Zapiro has shown other communities.
Today our world is defined by images, and it is difficult imagining anyone using Zapiro’s image as an object of worship. It is simply a representation meant to make a larger point – one which seems to have been largely lost in the current furore. But there is no arguing against those who lack an appreciation for various art forms and whose interpretations of texts is based on literalism and Manichean dichotomies.
With religious fanatics stoking the flames and with willing masses at their disposal it will just be a matter of time and a sad day indeed when the predictable death threat will be made against him. We should rally behind and defend this national asset. Zapiro, you owe no one an apology, and power to your pen. 
Protest in a constructive manner, Article written by Abdullah Saeed, as cited in the Star in the Star Tuesday May 25  2010.
Freedom must be used with respect and it must be curtailed at a certain point before it becomes unacceptable. I think cartoons that ridicule and insult some of the most exalted personalities that have graced this earth demean the importance of our right to press freedom or freedom of speech.
Anything – be it an article or a film, book, caricature or statement – that hurts someone else’s religion or cultural beliefs and sentiments should not be allowed. The hallmark of civilisation is to have mutual respect and courtesy for our diverse cultures and religions.

You are so right Saeed, in an ideal world – we need to relay your message to those leaders of countries (political and spiritual) where gays are imprisoned and or killed for expressing their love for one another. So much for your views on mutual respect and courtesy for our own diverse cultures and religions.

The freedom I enjoy, as a gay citizen of South Africa, bears testimony to those who not only published cartoons but stood in the firing line and paid with their own lives to expose and communicate the truth (Ken Oosterbroek – journalist photographer killed) - lest we forget.

It is the responsibility of all creative cultural practitioners, representing our diverse cultural and religious beliefs and groupings, to continue to play their part, and collectively help shape our changing society’s views on issues on all levels. Cartoons, music, books and documentaries, every creative discipline and object, is a vehicle through which, we as artists, can express our views in a constructive and creative manner/ endeavour on a diverse range of relevant topics and causes (cultural palaver). Tolerance is required on all levels, and the freedom to be heard, if we are to continue to enjoy an all inclusive democracy such as ours. The more complex the issue, the more diverse the expressed views, the greater the dialog required to find a solution or an acceptable practice - hence the fact that we refer matters to the constitutional court. 

God forbid that we are to remain silent and afraid to speak out, in case we cause hurt  or pain. Blood, sweat and tears were shed by many to help create this young democracy. Its all part of the process to define what is best practice and in the interest of all SA citizens and not just a small often conservative minority. Let us continue to build it together, every step of the way, in an open and transparent manner. 

The new media transcends barriers, fences, borders and governments and religious leaders’ attempt to stem the present tide of cultural transformation and reform; the promotion of democracy and basic human rights on all levels on a global scale – thank god for that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hi eugene, i wish i knew which zapiro cartoon has caused all the controversy and the inevitable fatwa. it's difficult to figure the state of south africans compared to the US and i'm afraid i've been beaten down for so long that i come to be somewhat disillusioned and even intolerant. the forefathers of this country with all their faults struggled and sacrificed to keep god and religion separate from politics and government and the kindest and most tolerant manner to express what has happened since is that the language of 230 years ago has come to betray the framers of the constitution. linguists who specialize in the written language of the era (apparently there are more books written a year now than all the books that had ever been written then), i like to call them paleo-linguists are not confused about the intention to leave religion out of the government but the fanatical religious of this country which number conservatively at 30 - 40 million are in the process of hijacking the government, the constitution and more importantly our history by revising textbooks used to educate our youth to omit things they consider distasteful and promote their current agenda. i've heard that a considerable portion of cambodians don't believe the stories of the killing fields and kymer rouge from merely two generations before. it's interesting (and disgusting) that these calls for tolerance by people who think it should be a crime to criticize "the most exalted personalities that have graced this earth" always seem to be lacking in their tolerance of other less "exalted" groups such as women, gays, atheists and certain ethnic groups. i'm starting to ramble but i think it is the very tolerance of the liberal side of the equation (read: non-believers)that has allowed the fanatics to rise to such influence and power and we, in this country are soon to regret it. i wish you luck moving forward.