Saturday, March 12, 2011

Controversial, Is It?

Controversial, Is It?

(It is recommended that this blog post be read with the accompaniment of a version of Prince's Controversy playing in the background. If you don't have it in you music library, shame on you, and I've provided below a remix I found on YouTube. Enhance your experience.)

The theme of the evening was controversy. I cleaned myself up and got ready to be inspired to public disagreement. I'm not sure why I missed Afriart Gallery's Controversial Art exhibition last year, so I made certain that I showed up at this one. I really enjoy exhibition openings at Afriart. Not only do you sometimes get to see amazing pieces of artistic expression, but you also usually get a chance to meet and talk with the artists--who I find to be pretty fascinating people. I'll be a little bit cheeky and also admit that sometimes it's really fun to go when you know there will be a less-than-brilliant exhibition and have a good laugh (both inside and sometimes outside) at the pieces of work that do not elicit your artistic appreciation. You know, like the movie, Flashdance--so bad that it's great!

What makes controversy? I've had this discussion with several people without reaching a definite conclusion. I guess, to an extent, one can plan controversy and work towards a controversial outcome, but I believe that it's more often an uncontrived response from the public. I don't think an artist's work can be deemed controversial until there has been some kind of public contention regarding it. Controversial topics may be addressed through art, but until it makes the audience uncomfortable enough to debate it's merit (Censor it? Ban it? Burn it? Praise it? Embrace it? Promote it?), can the modifier controversial be attached to the object?

The exhibition was interesting. There was a good mix of art (paintings, sculptures, photography, conceptual) there from a mix of some of my favourite artists, plus a hodgepodge of artists whose work I'm not yet familiar with and artists whose work I'm not a big fan of.

If seen by the right people, this painting of Jesus on a cross wearing a camouflage loin cloth with a gun strapped across his chest, could spark some controversy. Or maybe not, because similar depictions have been done before.

Nothing has drawn more international attention to Uganda over the past several months than the attitude, treatment and proposed treatment of homosexuals here. This piece is call Lynching of the Gays, and I'm glad to see the art world making a statement about the issue that is affecting Uganda's society. However, what makes this piece controversial? Controversy would have been stirred if the artist opted to paint two men in some kind of loving pose (kissing, in bed, etc...) with no judgement.

Stella Atal is an artist I have a great deal of respect for, and it was so great to see her at the gallery last night. She's amazingly talented, not only producing lovely paintings, but also designing fabulous clothing, and apparently she also writes poetry. Maybe the misspelled words were intentionally left in the above poem that accompanied her photographs for artistic effect. My concern is that the misspelled words could distract the reader from the power of her message.

This is just a portion of a larger painting, but I wanted to highlight the words on the condom traffic lights: quite amusing.

I'm not sure how long this exhibit will run, but if you find yourself in the Kamwokya area, pop in to Afriart Gallery and see it for yourself. I'd be curious to hear your opinion.

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