Bible bashing is easy, but would artists touch Islam?
The Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow with a local community church has opened a new exhibition that originally aimed to “reclaim the Bible as a sacred text”.
In a somewhat unorthodox way of achieving this end they have left a Bible open at the exhibition inviting people to write whatever they want in it.
“If you feel you have been excluded from the Bible, please write your way back into it,” asks the gallery.
Many have partaken in this by writing pearls of theological wisdom such as “F*** the Bible” and “Facist God”. You can read the story here.
My first question is if God is a Fascist why did he just not make us all look Swedish?
Another more serious one is why is it considered artistically legitimate by some to vandalise the Bilble and not another religious text, say the Koran.
The Catholic Church has made this point in its response to the exhibition, which also shows a woman tearing up the Bible and stuffing it down her undies.
So why doesn’t more art question, critique or parody Islam?
The answer being that criticising or parodying Islam in the name of art is a pretty fraught pastime - just ask Salman Rushdie, the Danish cartoonists or Theo van Gogh (for those of you who don’t know he was shot and had his throat cut on the way to work after making a short-film showing verses of the Koran projected onto naked women).
This is not an invitation to go out and start tearing pages from anyone’s holy text - in fact the work of van Gogh suffered from the same cheap attention seeking techniques as the Glasgow stunt does, and ultimately it doesn’t make for very good art.
But given the role and shape of Islam in the world at present, maybe it should be just as much a target of artistic critique in the west as Christianity often finds itself?
Another point to be made here is that exhibitions like this cater to a rather middle-class undergraduate sense of what it is to be shocked (“let’s like rip-up the Bible guys”), and if churches choose to handle these incidents with more maturity and tolerance themselves in can serve both as the best advert for their faith and best rebuttal to their critics.
But a mistake that the Catholic Church and other churches tend to make in these situations is to call for bans and pickets of galleries, movie theatres etc.
In turn these serve as self-fulfilling prophesies for artists staging the exhibition just itching to be victimised for something.
But if these guys are indeed at “the cutting edge of contemporary art”, as they told The Times, it might be worth having a look around the world today and realising that there are tougher holy cows than the Bible walking around.
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