Monday, July 5, 2010

Wandjina Watchers spat reveals censorious, anti-art culture

Here is a perfect illustration of the depressingly censorious attitude that dominates the Australian arts world:

A Katoomba businesswoman called Vesna Tenodi commissioned an artist, Ben Osvath, to carve a sculpture called Wandjina Watchers in the Whispering Stone. Its intention was to affirm and celebrate the deep spirituality of Aboriginal culture. However, local Aborigines were outraged because they believed that no permission was given for the sculpture to be made. They have vandalized the sculpture and made death threats to Ms Tenodi.

The story was covered on the ABC's Law Report, hosted by Damien Carrick.

Damien Carrick: Now I understand that some people from the Kimberley region of WA, from where the Wandjina knowledge comes from, they've been very, very critical of this sculpture. What do you make of those criticisms?

Vesna Tenodi: I wouldn't know about that because they haven't approached me or told me or put it in writing, any objections that they might have. All that we experienced is violence and vandalism by a few local angry Aborigines. And so I wouldn't know what people think because once they start screaming profanities in our face and making death threats, I stop listening.

So it appears those in Kimberley who condemned the work didn't do her the courtesy of telling her why they were upset. Also, those angry about the sculpture claim they weren't asked permission to use the imagery. Yet Ms Tenodi says:

And I did make numerous attempts to reach them and to obtain their co-operation and I kept advising them as a matter of courtesy and hoping for their participation. So if they're unhappy, I don't know why, because in my mind this is a non-issue.

And anyway, as she rightly points out, all artists should have the right to utilize whatever images they like, from whatever culture. This is a key to our free, open society. We started going backwards very quickly if we start making exceptions to this rule.

Damian Carrick then speaks to Donny Woolagoodja, a traditional elder from the Kimberley. (And you should listen to the podcast because Carrick immediately adopts a different tone, almost as if he is speaking to a child.)

Revealingly, Woolagoodja says he didn't speak to Ms Tenodi, even though he was there in Katoomba, presumably because of the sculpture!

Damien Carrick: When you visited Katoomba, did you try to speak with Vesna?

Donny Woolagoodja: No, I didn't, because I just looked at her and I could see right through her, because she's not the right woman to talk to.

What a ridiculous position. Those who are upset claim they weren't contacted or consulted when attempts were actually made to do this. And when one of them does have an opportunity for dialogue, he does nothing! Who is being unreasonable here?

Later in the interview Carrick talks to Jenny Wright of the Mowanjum Arts and Cultural Centre in Derby. She lays out a highly censorious and politically correct position. And in a shameless display of PC bullying she attempts to shame Ms Tenodi by insinuating that creating a sculpture is akin to stealing people's land. Again, it's worth listening to the podcast because she says it in a most vindictive and sanctimonious manner.

Jenny Wright: It's interesting, isn't it? I think one part of me would say, Vesna we've taken everything from these people, we've taken their land, we've taken their language, we've destroyed their culture. Are we going to take their religion too? It just seems to me, and I know I'm making a very strong statement here, but I do feel this in my heart, that it just seems to me that that's so grossly unfair, and as an Australian I think you should feel ashamed of yourself, seriously. Appropriation of absolutely everything. Is there nothing left of these people that we won't take? Really, I'm sorry Vesna, if you see yourself as a spiritual person, I'm sorry I can't have that point of view of this behaviour, I really can't. It's insensitive to the extreme.

No, shame on you Jenny Wright for being so mean-spirited and censorious.

With smug anti-art ideologues like Jenny Wright in positions of power and influence, no wonder Australian artistic culture is generally so mediocre and anodyne. Rather than going along with this PC claptrap, Aussie artists should be rebelling against it. (But predictably they hardly ever do. Shame on them, too.)

Ironic that artists are forever celebrating themselves for their "diversity". Well, let's see some then!