בחודשים האחרונים התרחשו בארצות-הברית מספר אירועים המעוררים חשש לגל של דיכוי פוליטי וצנזורה. הסרת סרטו של האמן המנוח David Wojnarovicz מתערוכה במוזיאון הסמיתסוניאן בוושינגטון הבירה בעקבות לחץ של הכנסיה הקתולית ופוליטיקאים שמרנים, ומחיקת ציור הקיר של האמן רחוב בלו מהקיר החיצוני של המרכז לאמנות עכשווית בלוס אנג'לס יום אחד בלבד לאחר שצייר אותו ברשות ובהזמנה, עוררו תגובות רבות ברשת – בעיקר בבלוגים ובטוויטר – תגובות שלא הצליחו לגרום להחזרת העבודות המצונזרות לתצוגה. בעקבות אירועים אלו ואחרים, וגם לאור נסיונות סגירת אתר וויקיליקס וכליאת החשוד בהדלפה ברדלי מנינג בבידוד מוחלט במשך יותר מחצי שנה לפני משפט, האמן סת טובוקמן, ממייסדי ועורכי כתב העט המאוייר הוותיק World War 3 Illustrated, מסכם את האירועים וקורא לאמנים להתארגן כנגד הדיכוי הפוליטי.
CALL TO ARTISTS: ORGANIZE AGAINST REPRESSION
2011 appears to mark the beginning of a period of increased repression. The system has responded to the expanded possibilities for communication offered by technology and globalization, with attempts to censor social critics, be they artists, activists, journalists or just concerned individuals. This is happening all over, but three examples come to mind.
The first, and for us in New York, the most close to home, is the removal of a film by the late David Wojnarovicz from a show at the Smithsonian’s national portrait gallery. The film, Fire In My Belly, is a visual critique of the role of the Catholic Church in destroying the indigenous culture of the Americas and features a cross being swarmed by ants. The Smithsonian removed the film in response to pressure from the Christian Right and Republicans in congress. It is pretty obvious that Right Wing Christian groups object to this piece, not only because of the desecration of a holy object, but because of its ideological and historical content, and also because of the political history of its author. Wojnarovicz, in his lifetime, was an important spokesman for the gay community, for sex workers and for people with AIDS and was often a target of rightwing censorship. David was a beloved figure to many of us here in New York and this attack, coming years after his death, seems particularly offensive to us.
Another is an attack on a contemporary graffiti muralist, Blu. As part of an exhibition of Street Art at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Blu had the opportunity to paint a mural on the outside of the building. He chose to make a commentary on America’s ongoing military involvements by painting rows of coffins draped in dollar bills. The image was quickly whitewashed by the museum, which claimed that it was offensive to Veterans in that there was a monument to World War 2 soldiers and a V.A. hospital across the street. But there had been no complaints by the hospital or from Veterans groups about the mural. Contrary to the media hype, there is a great diversity of opinion about U.S. foreign policy among veterans. So it seems to us that if there was a war memorial across the street, Blu was supplying a much-needed counterpoint. This seems to be a case of the museum’s timidity and fear of a conservative backlash being hidden behind concern for the veterans. It also seems like an attempt to send a message to the street art community, a growing international art movement, that to enter the museums they must leave their politics at the door.
But perhaps the most significant acts of censorship at this moment are the ongoing attempts to destroy the organization Wikileaks. This website specializes in providing the public with secret documents provided by whistleblowers. Their goal is to increase transparency and accountability. They have played an important role in exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Services vital to Wikileaks ability to continue to provide a forum for whistleblowers have been cut off. Many of these, from Internet domain providers to credit card services, were ostensibly the decisions of private businesses, but it has also been reported that the U.S. government is pressuring these businesses to deny Wikileaks service. The director of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, has also been subject to sexual assault charges and other legal proceedings that seem to us questionable at best. Meanwhile Bradley Manning, an American soldier accused of giving information to Wikileaks, has been held in solitary confinement for over half a year.
In all three cases we see that the victim is no mere provocateur, but a political dissident who is making informed and intelligent critiques of power. We also see that no legal censorship is applied but the dissident is punished by other means. Finally, we see that a pretext, desecration of the cross, offending veterans, sexual assault, secrecy, is used to cover up the real reasons. All of this obfuscation speaks to the degree that neo-liberal society, which fights wars “for democracy” is embarrassed by its need to repress dissent.
There is a need to suppress the truth because the truth is rather damning. The U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan continue in spite of promises to end them. Massive flooding due to global warming has become the new normal. Economic conditions continue to get worse for most people while Wall Street has been bailed out. Under such conditions the power structure needs to get control of discourse for fear of being called out.
Attacks on the free speech of intellectuals reflect an environment in which peoples civil and human rights have eroded significantly. Thousands are held in Guantanamo and other military prisons with no charges and no access to the normal court system. Immigrants are rounded up and deported. Homeless people are forced into out-of-town shelters. There seem to be security cameras everywhere. In such a society, freedom is a pretense.
The first responsibility of decent people is to call this by its correct name. This is political repression. Our second responsibility is to stop it.
Towards this end, we in World was 3 Illustrated are calling on our fellow artists, other arts groups, and the general population, to come together in a coalition against repression that exposes and opposes these and other acts of censorship through public pressure.
Seth Tobocman, representing the editorial board of World War 3 Illustrated