Monday, June 19, 2017

Kenan Malik in the NYT. The paragraphs below reposted on his blog.
The accusation of cultural appropriation is a secular version of the charge of blasphemy. It is the insistence that certain beliefs and images are so important to particular cultures that they may not appropriated by others. This is most clearly seen in the debate about Ms Schutz’s painting, Open Casket. 
In 1955, Emmett Till’s mother urged the publication of photographs of her son’s mutilated body as it lay in its coffin. Mr Till’s murder, and the photographs, played a major role in shaping the civil rights movement and have acquired an almost sacred quality. It was from those photos that Ms Schutz began her painting. 
To suggest that she, as a white painter, should not depict images of black suffering is as troubling as the demand by some Muslims that Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses should be censored because of supposed blasphemies in its depiction of Islam. In fact, it is more troubling because, as the critic Adam Shatz has observed, the campaign against Ms Schutz’s work contains an ‘implicit disavowal that acts of radical sympathy, and imaginative identification, are possible across racial lines’.
I have a longer post on this [now up], but in the meantime a comment which may or may not appear.
[He accepted it] The two links below are to a post by Malik from last year, with my comments, and to my earlier post on Shriver. My writing is sloppy.
We've been here before

Your arguments as usual depend on the idea of appropriation, not specific acts itself. A Jewish joke told by a Jew is not the same as the same joke being told by a gentile. The meaning is the context. Your universalism renders context irrelevant; like most philosophy yours is rendered less apolitical than anti-political.

You defend Dana Schutz' painting as intent, as if reception were or should be irrelevant. The painting is shallow, as politics and as art. Without knowing the reference you'd never know what it was about. The face becomes an excuse for a sort of bad abstraction. It's not an argument for censorship to say it should never have been in the show. It's in. It's up. And the pretense that art objects, commodities in a luxury market should have some sort of leftist cred is as absurd as it is ubiquitous. But the painting itself is crap, as intent and as art.

Context: It was Mamie Till's decision to have an open casket. If a political operative had made the choice in her absence and without her permission would she have had the right to be angry at the "appropriation" of her son's body and her own tragedy for vulgar political ends? The obvious answer is yes, and you'd admit it. But this is the sort of thing you don't bother to think about.

The best response to the shallow liberalism of Schutz and the defenders of her work as interesting or serious or valuable is the exhibition of Alice Neel curated by Hilton Als, and up at the same time, though few seemed to notice the relation.

Good art can be offensive; good art can be racist, but it can't be shallow. You defend Schutz as you defended Shriver's racist gesture, as an "idea", which therefore was not racist. In fact Shriver is a nativist and the gesture was offending on purpose. It's her right to do so. I defend her right, not her ideas.

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