FRANSCHHOEK, South Africa, November 28 - Celeste Coetzee’s work Bridal Ontklee (Bridal Strip) has been removed from The Gallery at Grande Provence in Franschhoek, by curator Carina Bekker. Coetzee’s performance / installation at The Gallery at Grand Provence was part of the Unisa (University of South Africa) Final Year Student Exhibition there.
HUGUENOT MONUMENT, Franschhoek, December 3 - free speech advocates gathered today in a potato peeling protest of Bekker’s banning of Coetzee’s work.
In the original Gallery at Grand Provence installation Coetzee sat, topless for the first two days and later dressed in traditional Voortrekker (South African immigrant / pioneers of the 1830’s & 40’s) clothing, under wall text that read, Wives, respect your husbands, submit to your husbands. Critiquing patriarchal society in general and specifically Faith Like Potatoes author, evangelist Angus Buchan, Coetzee sat in the installation peeling potatoes and tearing pages from The Bible.
It is unfortunate that having work censored is such an effective way for an artist’s work to reach a wider audience, but that is the reality of a media culture where curators and institutions claim ignorance of their confederate role as perception & attention manipulators. In this case, Bekker’s ban of Coetzee’s culture critique has viralized it and taken the dialog about patriarchal culture and faith-based oppression to a wider audience.
Curator Bekker has stated that gallery patrons were very upset by the work – in some contexts the sign of a successful exhibition! – and that this figured into her decision to remove the work. It can be easy to condemn Bekker in a situation like this, and in fact I do, but we should also recognize the remarkable amount of hate a public that doesn’t take the time to understand a work of art can generate. It is truly devastating to realize how happy people can be to be uninformed. It makes me wonder about our future. In her remarkable book Dearest Tinkebell, Dutch artist Tinkebell documents some of the extraordinarily hateful mail people who appear to not understand her work have sent her.
Even though I do think Bekker’s choice was a poor one, we can’t ignore the possibly real pressure an outraged community can bring to bear. Tinkebell’s solution was probably better than Bekker’s: whenever possible, producing a book is probably a better response to outrage than censoring art.
• Celeste Coetzee / The Star
• Celeste Coetzee / Tonight News
• Saturday Protest / Cape Times
• Faith Like Potatoes / Wikipedia
• Celeste Coetzee / Jacaranda FM interview
• Facebook Page supporting Coetzee
• Potato Peeling Event / Facebook
• “Dearest Tinkebell”
I love Coetzee's work and I love the community response to it being censored. But I do have to say, for myself, I actually prefer to eat potatoes with the skin still on!
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