Thursday, 13 December 2007
A Photo Affair
The Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, The Netherlands, has evoked quite the debate after refusing to display a work of art last week. The museum selected a series of photographs by the Iranian artist Sooreh Hera, but decided a week before display to refuse one of the photographs in a critical series on the Iranian Muslim view on homosexuality. The museum director Wim van Krimpen was of the opinion that this particular picture was purely made to cause an uproar and decided not to make his museum a part of it. He did accept the other photos of the series to be on display. The photos show men in promiscuous positions, obviously referring to homosexuality. The faces of these men are however covered with masks. These masks show the likenesses of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his son in law Ali. Sooreh Hera wants to display, and protest against, the hypocrisy of Iranian president Ahmadinejad’s statements on the non-existence of homosexuality in Iran.
The refusal of the museum to display this one photo came after, amongst others, protests from the Islamic Democrats. This party is represented in the city council of The Hague and protested because they see these photos as very hurtful and insulting. The debate it has led to is focused on whether this is yet another instance in Dutch society where fear for Islamic fundamentalism prevailed in decision making. This is not to say that the Islamic Democrats are fundamentalists in any way but that the display of these photos could lead to repercussions in the future. In my opinion, on the one hand, the museum director has the full right to refuse this picture if, to him, it does not feel right to display it. He tried to prevent his museum from being part of one of the most heated controversies in the past few years. However, this refusal led to full media attention. On the other hand, the artist has the full right to make works as she wishes. Art will not always please everyone and when displayed in a museum it is an individual choice whether to go and see it or not. If you do not want to be confronted with certain matters, you simply do not go to the museum.
Dutch Muslims felt the need to speak up in these times in which a Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, makes one insulting (and insane) anti-Islam proposition in the parliament after another. Similarly, the artist felt the need to speak up against what she views as the intolerance of Islam for homosexuality. With his goodwill move, the museum director tried to prevent his museum from being caught up in this debate. By now, MuseumgoudA in Gouda has decided to display the full series. So if this post made you curious about what triggered this debate, you know where to go. However, to avoid disappointment, do not get your hopes up, because the photos are not that great. Any way, let us in the end value a free country like the Netherlands, which provides the opportunities for all these decisions and actions simultaneously.