Stand Up and Be Counted by Tatum Robinson
In the latest issue of Art Times magazine there are two articles discussing the Sit Down and Shut Up forum held at Durban’s DUT last month. The purpose of the forum was to highlight and debate the issue of ART CENSORSHIP.
In “Stand Up and Be Counted”, Greg Streak argues that “it is nationally apparent that the Durban City moves particularly slowly on things, perhaps in part because of arrogance, but I suspect mostly because of ignorance, the two of which are clearly a dangerous combination.”
This issue is once again being highlighted in the tussle between the Durban municipality (Metro Police), media and the “gangs of graffiti” movement (uniting the group of 7 arrested graffiti artists with a much larger crowd of discontented citizens). The debate is ON and reaction to the arrests and certain media’s perversion of the truth is playing out not only in the media and online, but in solidarity actions e.g. art exhibitions, public mural events and city graffiti tours.
I’m excited by all of this reaction and proud to be involved in a movement of people willing to stand up and be counted, but I must be honest and say that I’m nervous of a tendency for such hot topics to become very two sided – one being right and the other wrong. I personally find myself debating somewhere in the grey area.
In the article “Censorship of the Arts” Ilsa Thompson quotes the photographer and lesbian activist Zanele Muholi, who has experienced her own work being censored.
Muholi believes that “Art articulates our issues and claims spaces which have been refused to us.”
This seems to me a perfect perspective on Graffiti, which I think is in its many expressions a powerful form of Public Art. But it would be naive of me to join the current debate by championing Graffiti as an innocent form of public mural painting that has been unfairly misrepresented as vandalistic and gang-like. The culture of Graffiti, it has been explained to me, is rooted in a history of subversion, gang mentality and vandalism. So let the complex ‘grey area’ of this debate be embraced with open minds and a willingness to consider all sides of the argument. I believe there is much for us all to learn.
Having said that, the reality of the iniquitous arrests on Sunday, August 14th and immediate media endorsement seems a clear representation of Durban City’s “dangerous combination” of arrogance and ignorance. These guilty parties must be held accountable. That is NOT up for debate!