While debates in the United States have been very polarized in recent years and we are often inclined to label those who do not think like us, a recent decision by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, requires a little more perspective.
Taravat Talepasand: Down with Taboos
Iranian-American artist Taravat Talepasand describes himself on his website as an activist with a particular interest in issues of gender and political authority.
While she has been a professor since 1999, most recently at Portland State University, her art has earned her notoriety and recognition. Her track record is eloquent and she has multiplied exhibitions in several major American cities.
The style of the artist and the mission she has given herself leave very few people indifferent. She shocks, she provokes, and some call her art subversive. It was with this information in mind that I became interested in the exhibition of several of his works organized by Macalester College.
Society is changing and the leaders of museum institutions are constantly struggling with reactions or demands that can easily be associated with censorship or the culture of banishment. The phenomenon is perceptible as much on the left as on the right.
If, as I wish, some museum curators maintain the exhibitions, it is not uncommon for the presentation of certain exhibitions to be better supervised or for a few works to be reserved for a more discreet presentation.
These veiled works
If it sometimes takes on an erotic character, Taravat’s art often revolves around two themes that she regularly integrates in the same work: the emancipation of women in Iran and the denunciation of the regime.
Whether it highlights a woman who defies the authorities by lifting her dress while giving the authorities the middle finger, or whether it represents another woman wearing the niqab but revealing deliberately prominent breasts, we understand that the artist reacts. Perhaps more in the context of the demonstrations which have been agitating Iran for several weeks.
It was Muslim students who expressed their indignation at the content of the exhibition. According to what the New York Times on Monday, they considered some works to be caricatural.
After listening to these students, the College maintained the exhibition, but also decided, ironically, to veil the windows allowing to see the interior of the room where the works are presented. We then wrote small warnings for visitors.
Our American neighbors have already been bolder artistically, with the CIA going so far as to covertly fund the promotion of protesting and marginal artists.1but I believe that the attitude of Macalester College in the current context is wise.
If the reference to the veil is particularly awkward, we listened to the Muslim community, but at the same time we supported an artist who in no way violated the limits of freedom of expression.
1. During the Cold War, we wanted to emphasize the freedom of American artists from the limits imposed on artists from the USSR. See Advancing American Art, de Taylor D. Littleton et Maltby Sykes.