Saturday, April 16, 2011
Ai Weiwei and Salman Rushdie
The weekend. Saturdays are my sacred day in the studio. I live for Saturdays, and am very possessive of them. If I have to go out on a Saturday night I get cranky, since it cuts into my studio day. So all week I've been [practicing] turning down offers for dates, in order to keep my coveted day intact. Success! No date tonight. (It's never been a problem, actually, but sooner or later I may have to turn someone down, and I want to be prepared).
I'm working on a semi-large piece that I'm pretty excited about. I'm cutting up 'The Satanic Verses' by Salman Rushdie, and turning it into a chapter from the Koran called 'Repentance'. For those of you who aren't familiar with my creative process, I cut up sacred texts letter by letter and reconfigure the letters to create other sacred texts. In this case, the novel I'm cutting up – 'The Satanic Verses' – is admittedly not sacred, at least not in the sense of being a world religion. I take these liberties from time to time. But it's a reknowned piece of literature nonetheless, and notable for the controversy surrounding it. 'Verses' was published in 1988 and was immediately interpreted by radical Muslims as an insult to Allah. There are indeed blasphemous passages, and enough cynicism to fry an egg (apparently the Ayatollah wasn't keen on irony), so the novel was banished and an attempt was made to fry Mr. Rushdie's ass. Incongruously, the fatwah is still out on him, and he's been forced to live his life in exile in the U.S.
The novel isn't so spectacular. I've never been a big fan of magical realism, and the story has too many magical sub-plots for this reader. I mean, c'mon buddy...pick a lane. I can't keep up with all your fancies, and your lavish literary references are like ping pong balls bouncing around the inside my skull. My lofty opinion is that Mr. Rushdie should-ought to tighten the plot for his pea-brained readers with short attention spans. A weekend writing seminar with Danielle Steel should do the trick and maybe even render his novels readable. Now there's a gal who can write! No PhD needed to decipher her plots. But hey, whaddoo I know, huh? It's not as though one has to pass a literary exam, or even an English test, to write an art blog.
But anyway, all that is beside the point. I wanted to address the fact that his writing was banished, and it actually got him banished from his country. What a concept! Can you imagine creating something from your heart, and then having your life in jeopardy as a result? O gracious! It makes me weak with wonder. The artist, she should be able to say what she wants. The artist Ai Weiwei has been arrested because his art is critical of the Chinese government. This is insanity. As if the Chinese government is beyond reproach! They govern with egregious self-interest, and imprison those who stand in their way. When the people who set the rules are allowed to severely punish those who don't obey, there's bound to be corruption. Religion is ripe soil for this scenario, since it claim to hold the key to the afterlife. Throughout history there have been countless innocents and truth-tellers who have suffered at the hands of the arrogant power mongers.
My text piece addresses all of this: Namely, the creative person who states the truth and who pays a tragic price for it. But I leave some wiggle room for ambiguity. The question is one of intention. Am I further insulting Islam by cutting up the writings of an infidel and recreating a passage from the Koran? Or am I bringing restitution to the original offense, and making holy something that is considered blasphemous? (Please note my choice of chapter from the Koran: 'Repentance').
Anyone who's familiar with my work knows that I have deep regard for all religions, and respect anyone's spiritual path. I even respect the person with no spiritual path, and one who, like me, follows the pathless path. So I trust that my intentions for this piece are understood to be respectful of Muslims. Restitution is what I have in mind and heart as I work on this piece. Of course I have no affiliation with Rushdie and cannot know what he would say, nor if he'd approve of my efforts. (I suspect that he would not). This is my own expression of repentance, restitution, and reparation. I seek only to create something beautiful where there has been conflict. Surely it won't change anything, but even small transformations can be felt...sometimes...maybe...who knows. But I live in a free country, so no one can arrest me for what I say or make. God bless America, huh? We're a messed up nation, but at least we got one thing right.