Thus spoke Pier Paolo Pasolini the day before he was assassinated.
History is mine! is the title for this year’s Printemps de Septembre à Toulouse, a beautiful exhibition that speaks to us about History and delivers a powerful dose of optimism.
Mounir fatmi is one of the artists included in the show and his video, Modern Times, a History of the Machine, is one of the few outdoor public art projects. The piece is projected at night onto the exterior wall of the Hôtel-Dieu. Inspired in part by both the Charlie Chaplin film of the same name and verses from the Koran, you could say it represents a Modern Times for the contemporary Islamic world. Modern Times, a History of the Machine was exhibited recently in Paris at Galerie Hussenot and is also owned by the Modern Art Museum in Doha, Qatar, where it was presented at opening in 2011 and then acquired by the museum.
Just across from this installation was another work by fatmi entitled Technologia which was projected on the Pont Neuf bridge. Technologia also presents verses from the Koran in calligraphy, but unlike Modern Times, which screens onto the side of a building, it was projected onto the floor of the bridge. It was magic when the light hit the ground. I had the privilege of walking alone at night on the bridge, after the opening, in the rain and the wind, walking in the darkness and shadow up to the light of the artwork, wonderstruck, my body taken in by the luminous movements of the Arabic calligraphy.
But certain Muslims in Toulouse did not see the work that way. A young woman – it could easily have been me just a few nights before – who walked on the bridge and through the projection, was hit in the face by another woman, a Muslim outraged to see her trampling the verses of the Koran. Apparently one does not walk on the Koran.
The work was removed by the City of Toulouse, despite the fact that nobody had asked them to. Out of fear? Fear is always a bad advisor. In order to keep public order? Not even in our dreams will the censorship of artworks promote public order. And even if this removal of his artwork was agreed on by the artist (he had stated earlier that “fighting for ideas is acceptable but I am not in favor of fighting on the streets”), don’t delude yourself, this was artistic censorship.
At the same time, this weekend, we in Geneva are voting on a new Constitution and I am reading the wonders it contains:
Among the general clauses: the State is secular. It maintains religious neutrality.
Among the basic rights: The freedom of art and to make art is guaranteed.
Censorship is forbidden.
Mounir fatmi, maybe you should ask the City of Geneva, which is as left-leaning as the City of Toulouse, for artistic asylum. Or maybe you should ask Charleroi, where Pierre-Olivier Rollin, who has fought so hard to maintain his artistic independence, is right now inviting you to present “Intranquillités” (a premonitory title) at BPS22. “Curiosity as a tool of emancipation, free speech and the search for origins are what drives this exhibition… Mounir Fatmi, Mohamed El Baz, Charif Benhelima all work at questioning blind acceptance, unfounded validations and immediate obsolescence…“
“We are all in danger” said Pasolini. The next day, he was found dead on a beach at Ostia. Thirty years later, Christian Brouillard remembers and entitles a paper of his: Pier Paolo Pasolini ou La mort d’un hérétique. The death of heretics always starts with cultural closure – what Pasolini called “cultural genocide.” According to him, “Refusal has always been an essential gesture… the handful of humans who made History are those who said ‘no’”. On mounir fatmi’s website it now says: “History is NOT mine!”. It also says that “brainwashing is the only free operation.” We are all in danger, when someone decides to remove artworks, to slap a passer-by, to burn books, to kill Pasolini.
It will always be vital to say no to those who want to close things down, whoever they are. Open, open your eyes, and let the artists create and enrich the world and encourage thinking, complexity, singularity, cultural questioning and all forms of disquiet. Don’t delude yourself: the life of those who create comes at this cost. At the cost of disquiet, and sometimes even death. As Pasolini knew.
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