Art, War and Religion

The Post 9/11 Relationship Between The Artistic, Political and Moral Stance Created By Artists During The Bush Administration.

Part 1


The public resentment and hostility for America, is striking in the art world.  Since 9/11, the Iraq war, and the Bush administration, art has been created to target America and her loyalist allies in the ‘war against terror’ – the UK and Israel.

When artist Damien Hirst said the terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks “need congratulating” because they attained “something which nobody would ever have thought possible” on an artistic level, artists went political for publicity.  Describing the image of the hijacked planes crashing into the twin towers as “visually stunning,” Hirst said “you’ve got to hand it to them on some level because they’ve achieved something which nobody would have ever have thought possible, especially to a country as big as America.”

Consider too, 9/11 as a sculptural experience happening, in which two minimalist architectural shiny iconic totemic symbols were brought down to debris by the fundamental act of fierce philistines.  The reality is no other art form has been as closely concerned in the worldwide unscrambling of humankind.  All the time, the news tells us again of the exclusive bond that art and sculpture has to our past.

As the world becomes more fearful of terrorism, the narcissistic use of American symbolism grows. Why? Because the animosity attached to America and its government is stuck on American culture as American culture is so all-powerful.

Post 9/11 political artworks by some artists display such disrelish for America and former President George. W. Bush when, on the whole and for various reasons historically, it is recorded that the U.S. has always been more receptive to the art of continental Europe (from L’Esprit Nouveau, the School of Paris and the Bauhaus – when the Nazis shut the Bauhaus and many teachers and artists went into exile in the United States).  So one must consider and investigate why.  Why this artistic challenge to the United States, results through ‘anti-America-ism’ art.

While art is supposed to be the best form of diplomacy, delivering universal qualities within us which pass boundaries, which identify us from one another, and identify us to one another, simultaneously. Instead we have seen the opposite in this critical representation of America.

While it is, on some levels, not surprising that artists have chosen to create images that show little respect for America, Americana, American art and culture, what the Europeans don’t realise, is that America’s culture, makes America the greatest mechanism of, and for, modern art that artists are in today.  Remember, America has two margins; The Atlantic and the Pacific.  So from the one side it looks towards Europe, and on the other to the Far East; from European art to Oriental painting, the roads of culture cross paths and amalgamate in the jamboree of all visual worlds.

The paradox being that America is growing ever-more monumental and victorious in symbolising free-expression in art.  Realising America as the nucleus of 21st century art looking towards the 22nd century.

Today artists hijack art of its unique antique responsibility, to bear witness to events.  Instead choosing to live their art, politically; to make a personal political statement that includes depicting the all-powerful former President Bush as a monkey.

The framework and approach upon which to base, research, and look at why the narcissistic use of American symbolism grows, is triggered as the world becomes more fearful of terrorism.

Albeit conditional and some believe to be caused by America’s capitalist consumer society, the United States’ feeling-of-plenty and premium has always been reflected through its art.  Think of Andy Warhol and Claus Oldenburg, with their food-inspired artworks, maintaining that with communism you hunger for food, whereas in capitalist America there are dozens of foods from which you have choice.  Choice that is opportunity.  From huge sides of smoked ham to one hundred cans of Campbell’s soup.

Researching, investigating and analysing exhibitions and artists, from the Tate to the R.A. etc, include counting German artist Sigmar Polke taking pot shots at American gun law, Afghanistan, Iraq and al-Qaeda.  And works by British Turner Prize artists Jake & Dinos Chapman showing American ideals that celebrate our contemporary world, and its much appreciated culture, by employing American McDonalds symbols and emblems as part structure of their sculptures.  Brilliantly.   And what of an artist’s replica of Camp X-Ray, this mock Guantanamo Bay prison, complete with blindfolded prisoners in orange boiler suits, built in Manchester, England?

Likewise compare Paul McCarthy’s video, showing the Queen hosting a tea-party orgy for George W. Bush with Bin Laden, to Bill Viola’s video illustrating his interest in religion – that drives Europeans quite mad, but are positively at home in a country whose money has “In God We Trust” engraved on each coin and note!  Viola champions differences between the religious right and the non-religious left; between conservatives and liberals; between Americans and the rest of the world in Europe.

Discovering how political art, post 9/11, was triggered by artists looking at the world in which they live and, more specifically the war in Iraq.  And by looking at how the ‘Christian’ artist’s vision – being a totally different vision and truth to Christians Bush and Blair – uses Christian iconography, which is poles apart from that traditionally associated, as universal matter for the artist.

It is neither unanticipated nor casual, that post 9/11, the veil as a form of clothing has been relied on as a potent abbreviation, taking on dress codes symbolic of oppression.  The veil, observed as a declaration of religious and cultural differences affiliated with foreign political assumptions of the East, has appeared in the art world as a symbol of cultural suppression.

Look at the art exhibition Veil, Modern Art Oxford, Oxford, England, 2004, where a more perplexing interpretation of this garment is explored.  Showing that under spin, bound with censorship, the sexuality and limits of the body reveal the veil as being the visible symbol of women, history, religion and politics.

Barely an Islamic innovation, the veil has been used in art from the earliest Biblical illustrations of the Old Testament –Genesis, when Jacob fell in love with Rachel but was tricked into marrying her sister Leah instead — to paintings of the Virgin Mary in prayer.  Here the veil is overworked with symbolism: brides put on white veils, as widows’ parade black ones.  Consequently the veil symbolises death and wedded joy.  From black to white.  Good to bad.  As of artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe to Matisse.

Looking at the symbolic consequences of the veil, and veiling, in contemporary art post-9/11, seen in the work of international artists as painting, photography, film, video and sculpture, they merge historic material with the present-day.  See how large-scale photographs by the Jewish Moscow-based art collective, AES art group, from the series ‘The Witnesses of the Future’, is created for maximum political force.  AES art group consists of three Russian Jewish artists, Tatiana Arzamasova, Lev Evzovich and Evgeny Svyatsky, creating deceptive, actually even quite odd, looking and deceiving Machiavellian cityscapes of the leading Western capitals from New York to Paris, Rome to Sydney and Moscow to Berlin.  Of how they could look under the rise under a changed regime.  But not as we would instantly know or recognise them;  As in AES’s photograph of the Statue of Liberty, dressed in a full white burka carrying a Koranic text where the Declaration of Independence should be can be identified as ridiculous and foolish.  This photograph, ‘New Freedom 2006, AES The Witness of the Future’, is particularly anti-American because it is the gravest assault on American civil liberties.  The French gave the statue to the people of the United States over one hundred years ago in recognition of the friendship established during the American Revolution.  It was back in 1886, that President Grover Cleveland accepted the Statue on behalf of the United States and said “We will not forget that Liberty has here made her home; nor shall her chosen altar be neglected.”  And so it is, that, over the years, the Statue of Liberty has grown to embrace freedom and democracy.

As this bizarre exercise of wrapping of the Statue of Liberty, a la Christo, will not convert its nature, or its significance, why do it?  Is this artwork a cheap and tacky political joke by these AES artists?  Who, especially being Jews, should know better about Judaism teaching respect for women, and female liberation.  Not to mention the thousands of first generation Jews, only in the last one-hundred years, escaping the pogroms of Russia or the Nazi death camps of Europe, who came through nearby Ellis Island, witnessing the Statue and partaking of the fruits of American independence first hand – for them and their artistic descendants.

In fact, it is the rights of free expressions, recognised and guaranteed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, that has allowed people who, under totalitarian regimes would, as servants of the state, not be allowed to express themselves in such a manner –in some instances facing re-education camps, even the death penalty.  In the States, this guarantee of expression has allowed scientists, musicians and artists to flourish.  To expand and advance their respective fields.  All while questioning the authority of the U.S. government; if not the First Amendment itself.

With artists visualising the veil as an Islamic institution associated with Muslims and Islam, is it not, that art that incorporates the image of a veil anything but anti-Islamic?   Or, in fact, just simply insulting and abusive to Westerners, in what can be nothing more than an invidious and crude attack, in these post 9/11 times.

Satirical computer digitally-manipulated images, such as the above mentioned AES photographs, are like Hollywood-esque storyboards.  Chasing the deep-rooted phobia of today’s post-modern, postcolonial, post-Cold War alliance, their artwork is lost in taste and discernment for truth that is acquired by a surreptitious anti-Americanism?

Another AES photograph, ‘London 2006’ has an onion dome capping the top of Big Ben and columns on top of the Houses of Parliament looking like a mosque, surely giving false credence and testimony to the invention that Islam is totalitarian.

This is surprising, as Islamic art has dominated Western artistic traditions for over five hundred years, and opened up the possibilities of abstraction; of colour fields; and of relationships between form and content.  It begs questions about why art, that is supposed to transform barriers, is actually creating them.

Even Edward Said’s influence – being the spirit of left post-structuralism and Orientalism – shows, the alliance between al-Qaida, the Taliban, the Afghanis and the anti-war artist is ever strong, following the brush-marked-footsteps of British graffiti artist Bansky, painting over Israel’s West Bank security wall with images that no doubt politically challenge Israel, and America.

By exploring how the artist has an uncanny knack of having his finger on the pulse of what is concerning people, by asking is anti-Americanism in art a Herculean political expression (against Bush or America), or, somewhat independently, a mere misappropriation of artistic skills – that has nothing to do with any President, or indeed art.  Nevertheless has in fact more to do with consciously insulting the skeleton of the American people per se.  Remember, according to artist Robert Rauschenberg, “it’s only through the arts that people can speak to each other, that’s why artists are more dangerous than soldiers.”


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