‘Mohammed as a dog drawing’ – What if we would depict Jesus Christ as a Rat? – a non-partisan view
Lars Vilks his "Mohammed as a dog" drawing, in the media pass on as cartoon triggers a dialectic question…. (1)
… all human ‘zoomorphy’ is culture dependent and animals worshipped or detested -vary greatly in human history when one allows a global view in time and space.
Dogs were associates of gods with the Egyptians, also in Hinduism from India to Nepal with dogs as guardians of the gates of heaven; on Java the red Karang dog was severed and in pre-islamic Mesopotamia dogs were worshipped by the Haranians, and to my mind comes also dog worshipping under the 17th century shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi.
The Karni Mata Temple in Rajasthan in India is devoted to rats and real believers dream about being reincarnated as a rat, though the rat reigns in China as one of the signs of the zodiac it’s omnipresence has not made him into a being with positive associations, still one can find a passage in James George Frazer’s Golden Bough (a study in magic and religion) on the habit to throw the tooth of a child on the roof in order of it to be found by these rodents and thus transferring it’s strong teeth faculties to a human.
Where do we place ourselves in our imagined kingdoms of species? Do we see a separate ‘animal kingdom’, or are all species equal before whatever ‘higher power’ there may be, we choose to believe in? Animist and Buddhist may lead the way to such an understanding. As for the drawing by the Swedish artist Lars Vilks with his scribbled picture of a zoomorphic being having the body of a dog and the head of a man, it is only because of the ‘turban’ on the head of it the man and because of the historical context of the drawing being published in a time that sees multiple confrontations and provocations between belief systems, that one may deduct that this may be a zoomorphic representation of the prophet Mohammed. In fact I think the ‘cartoon’ needs a head-line or a caption to be recognised as being an intentional provocation of Muslims. The drawing shown just on its own would have passed unnoticed.
In the Netherlands after the ‘alteration’ in 1578 when a more or less non-bloody shift was made from Catholicism to Protestantism, the catholics were forced out of view, banned to their (publicly known) ‘schuilkerken’ (underground churches). Catholics could still worship, but out of the public eye… later at the end of Protestantism as a state religion, there came rules that limited the visibility from the public street of places of worship of the different religions (Protestant, Catholic, Jewish) the inside of these religious spaces should NOT be visible from the street, so there were double doors, often also some sort of curtains….
With our new public space, the internet that has no or little borders, we can look often straight into the religious realm of other nations, other religions, especially when we choose to use some sort of search engine and will be presented with associated pictures deriving from given headlines and captions. There are no double doors then, no curtains, and it comes as no surprise that differences of views must hurt some eyes… Is filtering a solution? The computer-machinery is powerful enough to do it… not just political, not just sexual, but also based on religion? That does not need to be state-censorship, it can also be self-imposed protection, like we know it already from parental protection software.
The spread of the internet has gone much faster than the understanding of it’s consequences… it could not have been different and the art of provocation always has played it’s role in the history of media… how many people have been burned at the stakes for heresy, blasphemy, how many people hanged or decapitated for lèse-majesté… what was the role of ‘historical new media’ like parchment, scriptorium, block print, movable type, printing press, telegraph, telephone, cinema, radio, television, in the pendulum of provocation and repression?
There seems to be NO sense of history in the whole debate about ‘freedom of expression’… while the squares of our historical cities have been smeared with blood of those who were found to be ‘provokers’ of accepted values, humans that, according to those who saw themselves as keepers of faith or power, needed to die. Our so-called ‘enlightenment’ has grown from centuries of blood-shed and those who believe that ‘we’ are "forward" and the others who do not share our opinion are "backward", fail to understand that shared value systems that form the basis of any society, are not universal, and always combine the ‘inclusive’ with the ‘exclusive’. The ‘blasphemer’ has a role in all this, it is him who helps to define the rule of religion, without blasphemy no church. (2)
Lars Vilks (born in 1949) is an intentional blasphemer, with his first series of drawings of Muhammed as a dog, in the year 2007, one year after the ‘The Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons’ made by several cartoonist, one of them being Kurt Westergaard (Vestergaard) (1935-). Vilks who is not a cartoonist but an art theoreticians and visual artist, embarked on what can be labelled as a ‘copy-cat’ mission, making a series of scribbled drawing which he submitted to a group exhibition of viusal artists (not cartoonists) that had ‘the dog’ as central theme. The drawings were refused out of fear of violent reactions in the line of the orchestrated revolt against the Jylland-Posten cartoon depictions of Muhammed. It brought Vilks the expected success of negative international attention and the threats to his life that came with it. Vilks extended his provocative repertoire with a coloured drawing of Jesus Christ as a pedophile (a boy with his face buried in the lap of Jesus, suggesting strongly an act of fellatio). (3)
There have been failed attacks on Vilks life, which he withstood by continuing public appearances and exhibition of these works and adding some new ones, more overt and single minded than the earlier scribbled Mohammed as a dog drawings… There is a particular associated story to the title of the first drawings with the zoomorphic Mohammed that need to be explained first. It is about a ‘rondelhund’ (a round-about-dog), relating to a fun-controversy triggered by a Swedish sculptor ( Stina Opitz ) who started to place ‘dog-sculptures of scrap materials in the middle of traffic squares, without any permit. These were at times taken away by authorities, new and more ‘rodelhund sculptures’ appeared in response. Vilks choose this playful phenomenon as a titel for his Mohammed as a dog scribbled drawings. The pun has been soon lost in the internationalising media process. Thus it came that Vilks also made a more realistic painting of two puffy pink naked ladies walking their Mohammed-Rodelhund on a leash in what could be the garden of Eden. One of the galleries that showed these works is Rönnquist & Quist in Malmö, that have been threatened subsequently by a set of stones dropped in the letter box, which is an announcement of death, according to some news-site source.
I need to give all these details here to made understood that there is also a commercial side to the provocative series of art works and an urge for confronting established values, not just on issues of religion and Islam:
“We will not stop until there is a rondellhund in every Swedish home,” said Lars Vilks together with gallerist.
The header of the article on a sensational anti-islam web site is: "SWEDEN: Art Gallery owner threatened with murder by Muslims because of controversial Lars Vilks exhibition" (21/1/2014)
Provocative art at Rönnquist & Quist in Malmö, is nog limited to an artist addressing religion and specifically Islam, it also offered it’s gallery space to another artistic-provoker, Dan Parks () who specialises in criticising those who stop him from being critical about ‘positive discrimination’ in Swedish society, the ‘political correct’ that rejects what they see as ‘discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religion or ‘race’. Dan Parks, targets ‘blacks’, ‘gypsies’ and ‘jews’, with a street-style mix of graffiti, stickers and posters. The exhibited works of Dan Parks include posters that show Hitler at a speaker-stand with the text "Not Only Niggers Have Dreams", and a stencil like picture of black man’s face with a pipe with the text "This is ot a crack nigger or is it?" (analogy with the ‘this is ot a pipe’ drawing by the surrealist Margritte). (4) I will not detail any further here, if one wants to study this case, there are plenty of articles on-line (mostly in Swedish or Dansh) but GoogleTranslate is good enough to get the gist of the debate, with the header of an analytical article by a Berlingske Danish journalist of Chinese origin "Is Dan Parks works art?", which ends up with an oversimplified historical cliché on when you burn (forbid) art you end up burning people. A grotesque statement for the work itself, judge for yourself by clicking the previous (4) link. (5)
Dan Parks did get arrested for one of these shows and some of his works were judged discriminatory enough to be banned from being shown. Censorship indeed, but one needs to check for oneself whether the displayed hatred for ‘the political correct’ and ‘positive discrimination’, fits one’s opinion on equality of human beings.
It is often that works of a meagre content and hardly appealing aesthetics get propelled into public debate only because they are censored. The act of censorship leads to a public scandal of some sort, easily and the principle of ‘freedom speech’ soon overshadows the critical appraisals of content and form of contested works. This is an issue that needs to be dealt with, as the principles of ‘freedom of expression’ are devaluated when we are forced to defend works which are not, or hardly worth it.
(1) 14/2/2015: from the web site of "The Friendly Atheist"
Attack During Free Speech Debate in Copenhagen Targets Lars Vilks, Controversial Muhammad Cartoonist
February 14, 2015 by Hemant Mehta 39 Comments
Lars Vilks is the Swedish artist at the center of controversy in 2007 because he drew the Islamic prophet Muhammad with a dog’s body. (This was more than a year after other Muhammad cartoons were published in Jyllands-Posten.)
Lars Vilks Muhammad drawings controversy:
On 11 June 2007, Vilks was invited to participate in an art exhibition on the theme "The Dog in Art" (Swedish: Hunden i konsten) that was to be held in the small town of Tällerud in Värmland. Vilks submitted three pen and ink drawings on A4 paper depicting Muhammad as a roundabout dog. At this time, Vilks was already participating with drawings of Muhammad in another exhibition in Vestfossen, Norway, on the theme "Oh, My God". Vilks, who is a known proponent of institutional art, has stated that his original intention with the drawings was to "examine the political correctness within the boundaries of the art community". According to Vilks, the art and culture communities in Sweden repeatedly criticize the United States and Israel, whereas Muslim values are rarely even questioned.
The Guardian 15/2/2015: "Copenhagen shootings suspect was ‘known to police’"
The gunman shot dead by police on Sunday after a double terror attack on a cafe and synagogue in Copenhagen that claimed two lives was known to Danish intelligence, the head of the country’s security service has said. // Jens Madsen said the killer may have been “inspired by militant Islamist propaganda issued by IS [Islamic State] and other terror organisations”, but it was not yet known whether he had travelled to Iraq or Syria before the attacks. // The suspect was from Copenhagen but has not been named. He had been “on the radar” of the intelligence services, police said. They have recovered a weapon believed to have been used in the first attack.
//The killings began at about 3.30pm local time on Saturday, when a man attacked the Krudttønden cafe during a debate featuring the controversial Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who had depicted the prophet Muhammad in cartoons. Finn Nørgaard, 55, a film director attending the event, was reportedly shot dead at close range after going outside for an unknown reason at the time the attacker struck.
(2) Lawton, David; "Blasphemy; From the Old Testament to the Rushdie affair, the ever changing social context that creates the inseperatable twins blasphmer and prosecutor"; this study lays bare the reciprocity between accusers and accused..
"Blasphemy stands for whatever a society most abhors and has the power to prosecute. It is a form of religious vituperation against those who have transgressed the timeless truths that a society cherishes. That is why its nature, along with the timeless truths, changes over time."
[Lawton, David A. 1993. Blasphemy. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ; p. 3. www.worldcat.org/oclc/27894712 ]
(3) Picture to be found on ‘Common sense atheism’ website 11/5/2010: "Muslims Attack a Cartoonist Giving a Lecture on Freedom of Speech"
(4) "Entartete Kunst hos Galleri Rönnquist & Rönnquist" 10/7/2014
(5) "Laver Dan Park art?" by Xinxin Ren Gudbjörnsson, TV host and coach" 6/10/2014.
By Imaginary Museum Projects: News Tableaus on 2015-02-15 12:21:46