Affixing the Imprimatur, queer art and blasphemy in Cork.


Wherein the definition of art and who gets the imprimatur?


I find myself at a loss regarding how the problem of blasphemy is being discussed in Cork. There has been no art-historical analysis of queer art, there has been little media reference to the issue of the 2006-2009 Defamation Bill, and discussion on one political site is limited to the idea that art should be subject to market-force and consumer popularity. Rather than to even attempt to deal with the paucity of discussion on this issue which is limited, unimaginative and striking in its poverty, I thought to look at the issue of leadership, or in this case, lack thereof.

There are two posts on Poethead concerned with this context in Irish censorship, specifically the use of blasphemy as a means of censoring art, I refer to the issue of visual art and blasphemy in the historic sense in relation to the Rouault controversy, an Irish historical precedent for art censorship based in the accusation of blasphemy. 

The charge against that painter (a Fauvist catholic) was of  ‘blasphemy and incompetence‘, his art was refused exhibition solely because the fledgling government of the Irish State judged an incompetence in his expression. In the case of the queer art of Alma Lopez the complaint of blasphemy is quite clearly sited in an accusation of blasphemy based in representation. The Irish Government had apparently dropped the pairing of blasphemy with incompetence, and in the new Defamation Bill (2006-2009) has sited the offense of blasphemy in the ability to generate outrage.

There has not been much development in how our previous Government (FF/GN) viewed visual arts, or indeed publication. Ireland has supported international moves to abolish Defamation of Religions law, whilst codifying national laws which create a criminal offence for blasphemy. The history of the 2006-2009 Defamation bill is here. The necessity for a referendum in Ireland on blasphemy is here detailed.

It is quite clear that one can no longer bandy about terms like blasphemy in the realm of the visual and literary arts as an accusation  (based in the ability of the artist to generate community outrage) it now carries with it a criminalisation. What interests and concerns me in the Cork debacle is that two leaders, (a bishop and a political leader) should know better than to use terms for which the Fianna Fáil and Green Government were roundly and globally criticised in introducing a Bill which both had denied would affect the arts.

An accusation or complaint of blasphemy will continue to affect visual arts until the issue of censorship is fully and openly discussed. The fact that the word blasphemy was so blithely and ignorantly applied to visual art, in this case, the visual  art of a gay woman, suggests to me that any discussion on blasphemy and the arts will not happen where it is supposed to happen , but on the airwaves by tub-thumping ill-educated commentators whose easy manipulation of emotive issues is wholly without context, either legal or art-historical.

This is how things are done in Ireland, the government will go to their holidays rather unconcerned at the lack of debate which pretty much reflects what happened in 2009 when the Defamation Bill was initially introduced.

rouaultCC > C Murray

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