Sunday, October 3, 2010

Artist Gil Vicente and his list of enemies

Artists in democracies the world over are forever trying to shock and offend their audiences. But they are usually pretty careful to provoke only those who won't really nail them for it. Sure, they might cop some bad press, a torrent of angry letters and the odd demo outside the gallery showing their work. And very occasionally their art is censored. But these reactions only serve to lift their profiles and give them an aura of rebellion and danger - and at no real cost to them.

Here's another example of this. Artist Gil Vicente has depicted himself assassinating nine world leaders including the Queen, George Dubya Bush and even the president of his own country, Brazil.

Vicente's motivation for the work is that since these leaders have killed so many people directly and indirectly, he wanted to show them marked for death.

The list certainly does seem varied. And he's sure to offend a whole range of people. Maybe he saw an episode of The Chaser's War on Everything on YouTube, and was inspired by the title? Who knows.

But it's the very variety of the list that makes it seem contrived. Does he really detest each of these people equally? I doubt it. He seems to be going out of his way to not seem one sided or prejudiced, thereby covering his artistic arse, so to speak. It doesn't seem honest to me, since we all tend to see things through a political or cultural prism, and are more likely to focus our rage in one or two key directions.

It's also odd that he's chosen the former leaders Kofi Annan, George Dubya Bush and Ariel Sharon. They are all quite passe. Surely President Obama would have been a more provocative choice for the obligatory American representative. He's still in power, and carried on Bush's wars, after all.

Maybe Vicente figured that he'd offend too many influential arty types if he included The One in his hit list. Or perhaps it is because now that Obama is so on the nose with those who so deeply admired him before, including him wouldn't have been provocative enough?

Then there's the absence of Osama bin Laden. If anyone was directly responsible for mass murder it was him. But I suspect Vicente figured that portraying the terrorist leader being executed might put Al-Qaeda on his tail. So, too big a risk there. (He did include President Ahmadinejad, though. So he deserves some cool points for that.)

He also deserves respect for his real skill as a representational artist. A realistic drawing is something you almost never see nowadays from so many of his ilk. I suspect most of them are just simply not capable of it. When you can find not only artistic inspiration but the actual artworks themselves in your own toilet, then learning how to painstakingly create accurate likenesses of people and things must seem too much like hard work.

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