Puritan gatekeepers’ wish to censor Paul Gauguin paintings demeans art – by Alexander Adams – 29 Nov 2019

Puritan gatekeepers’ wish to censor Paul Gauguin paintings demeans art
Paul Gauguin is under attack from supporters of post-colonialism and feminism because of his erotic paintings of Polynesian girls and women. Is censoring art of long-dead artists for moral reasons constructive?

Curators of the current display of Gauguin portraits at the National Gallery in London have not included any of his famous nudes, even though they could be described as portraits. Gauguin is in the firing line because of his erotic paintings of Polynesian women and his life, while living in Polynesia from 1891 until his death in 1903. The attacks come from supporters of post-colonialism and feminism. Academic post-colonial studies treat colonialism and all its products as irredeemably unjust; feminism is deeply hostile to any sexualised depictions of women by men.

Some criticism of Gauguin has been vicious: “He was, in almost every way, an absolute prick.” “Exquisite art by the Harvey Weinstein of the 19th century,” adds another review. The exhibition seems part artistic assessment and part historical trial.

Gauguin in Polynesia

Gauguin undoubtedly exploited his position as a privileged Westerner to make the most of sexual freedoms available to him.” So a wall text in the National Gallery, London declares. The truth of the matter is – as expected – more complicated than press and critics portray it.

Two reasons for Gauguin to visit French Polynesia were primitivism and sex. He was searching for a “primitive” culture that he could use to revitalize European art. He was also interested in the native women. Tahiti appealed to Europeans because of its climate, wildlife, food and culture; it was also famed for the attractiveness and sexual availability of its women. By the time Gauguin arrived, Polynesian customs had been almost erased by missionary conversion of islanders to Catholicism and rule of French colonists. Sexual relations between Westerners and locals were a grey area, with European and Polynesian traditions overlapping.

By taking a Tahitian mistress, Teha’amana (aged about 13 when they first met), the (married) artist probably committed deception. We do not have the testimony of Teha’amana, who died around 1919. As Elizabeth Childs points out in a catalogue essay, the situation was not a clear-cut abuse of power. Such relationships between unmarried partners – and partners different in age and national background – were not uncommon in Tahiti and it seems her family may have approved of the relationship.

The weakness of museums

How far should we go in morally judging long-dead artists?

Imposing our standards on those who lived in different eras and societies demonstrates unwillingness to empathize. Self-appointed representatives of groups, who have increasing influence over what we are allowed to see, have a righteous intolerance to anything that conflicts with how they view the world should be. Rather than examine ethical matters in a dispassionate manner, their response is ruthlessly authoritarian. These moral arbiters act like tyrannical mothers protecting their children. Yet we are not children. We have our own moral standards and life experiences; we can decide what is acceptable. No one needs protection from Gauguin paintings, which are neither dangerous nor obscene.

We do not reject theories of scientists or mathematicians because their behaviour was dubious, but we view art as having moral stature and that makes us sensitive to artists’ personal morality. Yet many of us are capable of detaching art from artist. We can separate Picasso’s infidelity from his paintings. We can love Richard Dadd’s art without condoning him killing his father.

Revenge on history

We should be aware that another motivation for censorious gatekeepers is revenge. Censoring paintings is revenge against their creator. Why should this moral criminal have art in museums, when he has perpetrated moral crimes? Some art is suppressed, and curators feel they have to publicly castigate the artist in texts. The moralising in exhibition catalogues and captions (including a recent one about Gauguin, held at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam) demonstrates that these actions are public performance, intended to show that the cultural elite abhors “historical injustice”. This is emotional theatre which demeans art, distorts history and patronizes audiences.

The idea of censoring art for moral reasons is counterproductive. What better way of prompting people to reflect on colonial experience than by showing Gauguin’s nudes in order to make us think about the lives of these women? By hiding evidence of colonialism, puritanical gatekeepers actually make it unreal. Gatekeepers want to have authority over what we are able to access. How long until all colonial material is removed from museums? When will classical art depicting rape be removed because it might upset victims of sexual assault? Already there are campaigns demanding such actions, and museums in the West are woefully weak at articulating the Enlightenment values of museum culture that would defend museum independence.

Threatened by campaigners and battered by critics keen to display their “woke” credentials, museums in the West are a soft target. Museum staff are unwilling to defend traditional goals of their own institutions. If matters continue this way, museums will be held captive by a tiny handful of activists forever moving the goalposts.

We must reject moralising pressure groups by asserting our rights as informed independent individuals to make our own judgments about culture and history.

By Alexander Adams, a British artist and writer. His book Culture War: Art, Identity Politics and Cultural Entryism is published by Societas.

Critics must protect high art from cancel culture – by Alexander Adams – 22 Nov 2019

Critics must protect high art from cancel culture
As cancel culture and the PC police creep closer to high art, where are the critics prepared to stand up to the Twitter mobs to save everything we have loved for generations from a fire of political purity?

Recently, The Guardian published an article entitled “Blackface and Fu Manchu moustaches: Does Ballet Have a Race Problem?” The article included comments from creative figures in the ballet field, with mixed opinions, including indications that political correctness is already restricting creative freedom.

Problems of racial casting and creative interpretation are particularly important in plays, ballet and opera, which are not fixed as literature and art are. Interpretation in ballet can come in many forms: from casting, costumes and sets to removing scenes and characters. Lots of classic ballets feature foreign settings and non-white, non-European characters. If a production is to create an authentic atmosphere – however incomplete – then it is justifiable to use props, costumes and make-up to achieve that. 

This enters the territory of “cultural appropriation,” which is a particularly poisonous identity-politics concept that states no member of a national or ethnic group can use culture from another group without demeaning and devaluing it. Even adopting fashion, music and food can instigate online mob shaming.

A lot of art deals not in realism but in symbolism, symbols acting as shorthand. Sometimes the shorthand is comic and presents stereotypes for humorous effect. Added to this, ballet is far from naturalistic. When we demand that art forms with highly simplified and heightened expressiveness match reality we hit the insurmountable barrier of impossible expectations.

Policing appropriateness

While many of us pride ourselves on empathy and engagement with world cultures, we lack empathy for creators and audiences of 100 years ago. 

When viewing a work of art from another era, too often we are unable to absorb and respect a different outlook. We fail the art by being unwilling to relinquish our egos for a few hours. Why should the creators’ humor and outlooks conform exactly to our current view point? It is monstrously vain to expect that.

When (on our behalf) self-proclaimed authorities start to arbitrate what is appropriate and not, we give up our autonomy to decide for ourselves. We allow others to do our thinking for us and permit gatekeepers to treat us in patronizing, infantilizing ways.

There is a darker side. Often the attempt to protect other people’s feelings is a convenient cover for control. In the eyes of the elite, they have a duty to use their influence to protect weak people. This is the vanity of the elite seeking to curb other people’s speech. 

The elite are so convinced of their moral righteousness that they never doubt that they have the right to control both creators and audience. This restricts creative freedom and free speech; it also limits the potential of our imagination.

Cultural consulting or cultural control?

‘Song of the Nightingale’ (1920), with music by Stravinsky, choreography by Balanchine and costumes by Matisse, is a ballet that has proved tricky to revive in America because of its depiction of the Chinese. In a recent production, the American company took instruction from Chinese Americans. An organization called Final Bow for Yellowface has been formed to restrict depictions of Chinese in ballet productions across the USA. It is a sign of the way identity politics has taken grip of the arts in the USA, where self-appointed representatives of groups act as authorities, controlling how others can depict groups. Production companies have proved remarkably fragile when put under pressure by lobbying groups. The accusation of committing “Orientalism” (Western stereotypes of Asian and Arab cultures) is enough to frighten administrators into apologies and cancellations. Refusing to stage productions of “offensive” works is pre-emptively censoring what the audience is allowed to experience.

Yes, it is fair to adapt performances to our sensibilities, but that cannot extend to falsification. If Nutcracker’s “Arabian and Chinese [dance] variations were imaginative guesses on the part of the composer and choreographer, then so be it. Attending a production of ‘The Nutcracker’ won’t turn us into slur-using mean-spirited racists. Credit us with more independence.

A critic problem

So, does ballet have a race problem? No, we have a critic problem. We lack critics (in all areas) who have the thorough grounding and clear insight that would allow them to battle the creep of cancel culture. 

If we do not stop cancel culture, it will entirely consume everything we love in a fire of political purity.

If critics do not realize that, then they are a problem along with race activists and their “good allies” among venue administrators, then we will make little progress. 

Working as an art critic for almost 20 years, I have seen terrible art go uncriticized by complacent critics. During that time, standards in art have slipped badly. If more artists, curators and writers had been shamed for their incompetence then that descent would have been less dramatic. Far from being isolated snobs, critics can be champions of the informed audience, holding to account timid venue managers and pretentious creators. Critics are the first line of defense against fads; we need them to be better informed and braver.

By Alexander Adams, a British artist and writer. His book ‘Culture War: Art, Identity Politics and Cultural Entryism’ is published by Societas.

Runner who confessed to cheating in a half-marathon under suspicion again after Chicago race – by Nelson Oliveira (NY Daily News) 16 Oct 2019

Emily Clark’s results are under review.

She needs to find a new hobby.

A runner who recently confessed to cheating at multiple races, including one where she rode a bike for part of the course, is under suspicion of course-cutting again this week after she clocked seemingly implausible split times at Sunday’s Chicago Marathon.

A spokeswoman for the 26.2-mile race confirmed to the Daily News on Wednesday that Emily Clark’s results are under review, though she wouldn’t offer a specific reason.

Clark, who denies cheating at the Chicago event, crossed the finish line Sunday after almost four hours, at 3:59:08. But the red flag came after she drastically changed pace midway through the race.


emily 2

The woman, who operates a counseling clinic in Oregon, was running at 12:16 minutes a mile at the half-marathon mark and then somehow ran at 6:13 minutes a mile between the 25k and 30k marks, according to official results posted on the marathon’s website.

Her split times are consistent with course-cutting, as noted by the Marathon Investigation website, which uses analytics to expose marathon cheaters.


emily 48


“Her splits were wildly uneven and implausible,” Derek Murphy, who runs the website, wrote Tuesday. “The most glaring are her sub 6:15 minute per mile 30k and 35k splits. There is only one logical conclusion — Emily once again cut the course, just three weeks after her confession and apology.”


Clark was disqualified from last month’s AppleTree Half Marathon in Vancouver, Washington, where she had been the second-place female finisher, the Marathon Investigation reported. It turned out that she had biked the majority of the course, according to a statement she shared with the website at the time.


The woman had initially claimed the woman on the bike was her “twin sister,” but later confessed to disposing of the bike before running across the finish line, The Columbian newspaper reported.


Clark’s statement went even further as she admitted to making two cuts in the Chicago Marathon course in 2013 and cheating again in at least three other races. She blamed her actions on an anxiety disorder.


emily clark 2

But the woman attributed Sunday’s inconsistent splits to two asthma attacks she claims to have experienced during the race.


“This meant I had to stop and sit on the side of the course for a chunk of time and that I had to walk at other times,” she told The News in an email. “The friends who were out there to support me can attest to that. I was badly wheezing and used their inhaler at the halfway point.”


Clark, however, acknowledged that her results do seem suspicious.

“While I understand that such inconsistent splits and the recent article lead to suspicion, the truth is simple and I have friends who can attest to it,” she wrote.


The Chicago Marathon spokeswoman, Cindy Hamilton, said Clark has until Oct. 25 to respond to a request for details so event organizers can “reconstruct” her course experience. If they cannot validate the information, Hamilton said, she will be disqualified.

Leftist Lessons To Learn From The Successful Right Wing Coup In Bolivia – by Moon of Alabama – 12 Nov 2019

The coup in Bolivia is devastating for the majority of the people in that country. Are their lessons to learn from it?

During his twelve years in office Evo Morales achieved quite a lot of good things:

Illiteracy rates:
2006 13.0%, 2018 2.4%

Unemployment rates
2006 9.2%, 2018 4.1%

Moderate poverty rates
2006 60.6%, 2018 34.6%

Extreme poverty rates
2006 38.2%, 2018 15.2%

But Morales failed to do build the defenses that are necessary to make such changes permanent. The leadership of the military and police stood against him. Why were these men in such positions?

Jeb Sprague @JebSprague – 20:19 UTC · Nov 11, 2019

The US coup connection
Officials who forced #Evo to resign worked as #Bolivia’s Mil. Attachés in DC. The CIA often seeks to recruit Attachés working in DC.
2013: Gen. Kaliman served as Mil. Attaché
2018: Police Com. Calderón Mariscal was Pres. of APALA in DC

The Agregados Policiales de América Latina (APALA) is supposed to fight international organized crime in Latin America. It is curiously hosted in Washington DC.

These police and military men cooperated with a racist Christian-fascist multi-millionaire to bring Morales down.

Morales had clearly won a fourth term in the the October 20 elections. The vote count was confusing (pdf) because it followed the process defined by the Organization of American States:

The [Tribunal Supremo Electoral, or TSE] has two vote-counting systems. The first is a quick count known as the Transmisión de Resultados Electorales Preliminares (TREP, hereafter referred to as the quick count). This is a system that Bolivia and several other Latin American countries have implemented following OAS recommendations. It was implemented for the 2019 election by a private company in conjunction with the Servicio de Registro Cívico (SERECÍ), the civil registry service, and is designed to deliver a swift —but incomplete and not definitive- result on the night of the elections to give the media an indication of the voting tendency and to inform the public.

The early and incomplete numbers let it seem that Morales had not won the 10% lead he needed to avert a second round of voting. The rural districts in which Morales has high support are usually late to report results and were not included. The complete results showed that Morales had won more than the 10% lead he needed to avoid a runoff.

Kevin Cashman @kevinmcashman – 1:36 UTC · Nov 11, 2019
Eventually, the official count was released: Morales won in the first round 47.08% to 36.51%. If you had been watching the polls before the election, 5 out of 6 of them predicted the same result. Weird to have a fraud that matches up with polls.
Poll Tracker: Bolivia’s 2019 Presidential Race

To allege false election results to instigate color revolutions or coups is a typical instrument of U.S. interference. In 2009 Mahmoud Ahmedinejad won his second term in the Iranian presidential elections. The U.S. supported oppositions raised a ruckus even as the results fit perfectly with previous polling.

The OAS which recommended the quick count scheme that allows for such manipulations receives 60% of its budget from Washington DC.

Western media do not call the coup in Bolivia a coup because it was what the U.S. wanted to happen:

Army generals appearing on television to demand the resignation and arrest of an elected civilian head of state seems like a textbook example of a coup. And yet that is certainly not how corporate media are presenting the weekend’s events in Bolivia.

No establishment outlet framed the action as a coup; instead, President Evo Morales “resigned” (ABC News, 11/10/19), amid widespread “protests” (CBS News, 11/10/19) from an “infuriated population” (New York Times, 11/10/19) angry at the “election fraud” (Fox News, 11/10/19) of the “full-blown dictatorship” (Miami Herald, 11/9/19). When the word “coup” is used at all, it comes only as an accusation from Morales or another official from his government, which corporate media have been demonizing since his election in 2006 (FAIR.org, 5/6/09, 8/1/12, 4/11/19).

The poor and indigenous people who supported Morales will have little chance against the far right para-militaries and police (vid) who now go from door to door (vid) to round up leftists and Morales supporters.

Evo Morales found asylum in Mexico. Bolivia will now turn into a neoliberal hell and a quasi-dictatorship. It will take time, a lot of effort and probably a civil war to regain what was lost through this coup.

What can one learn from this?

  • As one person remarked to me: “When one wants to win and keep a socialist revolution one has to bring guillotines.”
  • Socialist movements who come into power must neutralize their biggest local enemies. They need to build their own defenses. They can not rely on those institutions, like the military and police, they inherit from previous regimes.
  • Such movements must never rely on U.S. affiliated organizations like the OAS or on military and police personal that had come under U.S. indoctrination. 
  • A movement needs a public voice. It must build its own media locally and internationally.

Hugo Chavez knew this all this. As soon as he won the presidential election in Venezuela he built the necessary forces to defend the state. It is the only reason why his successor Nicolás Maduro defeated the coup attempt against him and is still in power.

Evo Morales unfortunately failed to follow that path.

Posted by b on November 12, 2019 at 18:08 UTC



Saudi Arabia: Three actors stabbed on stage in capital – Islamists object to liberalized entertainment laws – by Anuj Chopra (AFP) 12 Nov 2019

Riyadh's King Abdullah Park is one of the venues hosting a two-month arts and entertainment festival that is part of the biggest cultural shakeup in the kingdom's modern history
Riyadh’s King Abdullah Park is one of the venues hosting a two-month arts and entertainment festival that is part of the biggest cultural shakeup in the kingdom’s modern history

Riyadh (AFP) – A Yemeni man stabbed three actors at a performance in the Saudi capital, police said on Tuesday, in the first such attack since the ultra-conservative kingdom began easing decades-old restrictions on entertainment.

The knife-wielding assailant was arrested after state television footage showed him storming a musical performance in Riyadh’s King Abdullah Park by what appeared to be a foreign theatre troupe.

Police said the victims were in stable condition after the attack late Monday, which comes as de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pursues sweeping reforms that mark the biggest cultural shakeup in the kingdom’s modern history.

“Security forces dealt with a… stabbing attack against two men and a woman from a theatre group during a live performance,” a police spokesman was quoted as saying by the official Saudi Press Agency.

Police identified the assailant as a 33-year-old Yemeni expatriate but did not give details of his motive or the nationality of his victims.

The King Abdullah Park is one of the venues hosting the two-month “Riyadh Season”, an arts and entertainment festival that is part of a broad government push to open up the kingdom to tourists and diversify its economy away from oil.

Prince Mohammed has introduced mixed-gender concerts, re-opened cinemas and lifted a decades-old ban on women drivers as part of a drive to modernise the Muslim kingdom.

In scenes that were unimaginable just two years ago, Saudi Arabia has staged glitzy performances by a host of international artists, from South Korean boy band BTS to pop icon Janet Jackson and rapper 50 Cent.

Last month, the kingdom hosted its first ever women’s wrestling match as it attempts to shrug off its ultra-conservative image.

The knife attack has left many Saudis shocked, with some on social media denouncing it as an act of “terrorism”.

“Every instigator against entertainment is a partner in this extremist act,” one Twitter user said.

– ‘Collision course’ –

Saudi officials warn that introducing such wide-ranging reforms in a society steeped in conservatism is fraught with peril.

While they are wildly popular among Saudi Arabia’s mainly young population, the reforms risk angering arch-conservatives, including hardline clerics and the religious police whose powers have been clipped in recent years.

“The risk of this sort of attack against the recent introduction of public entertainment, which many clerics have been inciting against, is a key reason (the government) has pursued a zero tolerance policy towards their public attacks against change and reform,” Saudi analyst Ali Shihabi said on Twitter.

Earlier this year, human rights campaigners reported the arrest of religious scholar Omar al-Muqbil after he criticised the Saudi General Entertainment Authority for hosting such concerts, saying they were “erasing Saudi society’s original identity”.

“Liberals and conservatives in the kingdom are on a collision course and that probably worries Saudi leaders the most,” Quentin de Pimodan, a Saudi expert at the Greece-based Research Institute for European and American Studies, told AFP.

“After this attack we can expect a sharper crackdown on those opposed to Saudi’s entertainment push.”

Saudi Arabia has already drawn international censure for its sweeping crackdown on critics, including clerics, intellectuals and women activists.

The kingdom has faced international scrutiny over its human rights record since last year’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul.

Developing the tourism and leisure sector is one of the foundations of Prince Mohammed’s Vision 2030 plan to prepare the Arab world’s largest economy for the post-oil era.

The General Entertainment Authority has said it plans to pump $64 billion into the sector in the coming decade.

Some Saudis, however, view the push for entertainment as an attempt to blunt public frustration over an economic downturn and high youth unemployment in the petro-state.

Yahoo News

Three Books From My Bed – 4 Nov 2019

I reached over and cleared three books from my bed near the wall on the right side.  I put them on a stool next to my writing table.  I’m trying to be more organized.  Then I spread the three books out to see the covers and the titles and the meaning of it all. 

The novel I am currently reading, sometimes in the sunlight in the backyard among the green leaves – “Quo Vadis” by Henryk Sienkiewicz.  The story is a pro-Christian message set in ancient Pagan Rome during the time of Nero. 

quo vadis 2

I saw the movie from the early 1950’s when I was a kid and always felt called to by the title when I saw it on the shelf of the Adams Street library.  What did it mean this Latin phrase Quo Vadis – which I knew vaguely meant ‘where are you going?’  The book is about 500 pages and I am a little past 100 pages.  I remember the rough outline from the movie.  The Christians are always presented in glowing terms in this book by a Polish christian written in Polish.  Calmly waiting their turn to become emperors and rulers of Rome in the future.  The movie, and the book so far, never shows the Christians burning pagan books, or attacking other religions shrines and beating and killing priests and priestesses of other faiths.  Christians are simply innocent victims thrown to the lions by crazy pagan rulers.  The story was first put out in the 1890’s and was translated into over 40 languages and must have shaped many peoples view of the ancient Roman world and the rise of Christianity from that world.  There are a few recent video renderings of the novel on Youtube that I will have to look into.  One is a long Polish miniseries. 

Next I have a book that I haven’t been able to get past the first few chapters – What is to be done? by N. G. Chernyshevsky.  A Russian novel from the 19th century.  I am curious because V. I. Lenin read the book five times over the summer when the was fifteen years old and his older brother was an underground militant populist campaigning against the royal government.  Later Lenin wrote an important political book about advocating socialists use professional military style organizing methods for party members; he called the book ‘What is to be done?’ echoing the novel’s title and question.   But, I have not been able to get into the story when I listened to a reading of the text on Librivox.  But, I’m still curious as to what Lenin saw in the book, so I took the paperback off my bookcase last week, and brought the book to bed.  quo 4

The last book gives a clue as to why I have books in my bed at all. 

quo 6