Rightwing Film Geek

Reader input (and response)

A reader took exception to my reference to liberals as people who “see a picture of a shit-smeared Virgin, and smile and call it good — artistic expression.” The following exchange took place by private e-mail, reproduced here with permission from the author, who wished to be identified only as “the anonymous postmodern aesthete.” Anyway, here’s the two notes, his first.
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They see a picture of a shit-smeared Virgin, and smile and call it good — artistic expression.”

I expect more from you bud. The NEA? They have not mattered in over a decade and have so shied away from controversy it is repugnant. Coming off your brilliant SOUTH PARK defense, the attack on Ofili seems especially misinformed and knee-jerk.

hvm.jpgFirst confession, I have not seen the painting in question in person. That said, I have seen numerous gallery and museum shows including Ofili’s work and while he ain’t totally my cup of tea I have never, ever seen smeared shit. He uses dried elephant dung, which resembles dried mud really and it often serves as a connection to the earth, mounting the painting or as an adjunct of the canvas — hanging off it like a piece of crisp biology. The reproductions of the offending painting put it in that camp as far as I can see. The use of this material (elephant shit) never suggests disrespect in the way that a Paul McCarthy or Mike Kelley using shit might — it is so safe, dry, scentless, and aesthetically sculpted as to move beyond filth into something new.

On top of all that Ofili is a Roman Catholic of African descent and a native of England — he is exploring his African roots in his work, linked here.

Pay no attention to the gallerists and curators in the piece, rather, focus on Ofili’s stance. His work is no more blasphemous in my opinion than that of SOUTH PARK in which Jesus is hosting a hippie cable access talk show — the new age Donahue.
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Although I had forgotten the detail about genital cutouts from porn magazines (which would have made my point better and the relationship of which to African nature cults is unclear), I actually did know “The Holy Virgin Mary” had dried elephant poo, rather than a piece of toilet paper one second after human use.

The problem is that shit is shit — and to shit on is a signifier of waste, contempt, the lowest animality. At least in Western society, and Ofili is not a Hottentot ignorant of our conventions and language and symbology, you don’t use it, even “to make people think” or whatever other cant the curators care to use, on whatever one considers holy. He may be exploring his African roots (Zimbabwe is a rather odd place for a Nigerian to do that, but let that go), but he’s doing it on Western nickels and in a Western public space.

If I saw the painting in real life and it’s as you describe it and how it looks in that article you hot-linked for me, I might not figure out that it was shit, taking it for mud and maybe I would get the metaphor or maybe not (it sounds at one and the same time obscure and ham-fisted).

You tell me to ignore the curators, but you really can’t. Truth be told, I think that’s the real cause of the fact I have zero interest in the contemporary art world. Were I to see “The Holy Virgin Mary” and take it for mud, there’d still be a panel next to it or a program guide *telling me* it was shit and extolling the work’s daring at epatering the bourgeoisie and “asking questions,” and the narrative of “Pretentious Blaspheming Artiste” then clicks in and I check out. Even if it may be wrong in a given case, it’s hard to deny that the art world and the culture crowd are asking for (literally) this kind of reaction.

ofili.jpgFurther, I’m not so sure Ofili stands so apart from the curators. Here’s the article’s nut quote:

“I don’t feel as though I have to defend it. The people who are attacking this painting are attacking their own interpretation, not mine. You never know what’s going to offend people, and I don’t feel it’s my place to say any more.”

Refusing to explain his work, reducing it to interpretation disagreement, and, this is the richest part, *You never know what’s gonna offend people.* Really?

At some point in the future, I’ll write a lengthy exigesis of the portrayal of Jesus in SOUTH PARK. Suffice it for now to say that he is one of the few characters in the show who does not manifest a caricatured to-the-nth-degree extreme form of one or more vices.

November 18, 2003 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , ,

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