I know this is rough, but its the first time I’ve ever used my new Genius tablet.. its really nice actually.. and its only a sketch of an idea, not the actualization of it.
The idea I got today was physical gestures as means of communication and connection. If you make a small circle movement using the upper hand on the lower hand this Arab hand gesture means “die of envy!”.. as you can imagine small little Arab girls use this often, and it is one of the first gestures I ever learned as a kid..
Obviously not all the work I am doing for my thesis is sketches and experiments, a great deal or it is reading and note taking. I’m really liking my new notebook. Above are the notes I took from a book that focused on the very first and most important relationship in most peoples lives; their relationship with their mothers. Everything I’ve read on the topic is fascinating. This isn’t the first time I’ve been interested in exploring this relationship either, clip here to see my photographic project on the same topic.
This year at VCUQ I was able to do something I’d been wanting to do for a long time, which was working with people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. At the beginning of the year I joined Best Buddies of Qatar where I was paired with the sweetest soul I could ever ask for as a friend. I can’t fully express right now how or why meeting and working with Aisha represent a step in the direction of my thesis, but I know it belongs in my 60 day challenge. I’m just not ready to talk about it yet.
There we sat, the five of us, on the last day of our field study, in a Muslim run Italian restaurant in the heart of Amsterdam. Not wanting the night to end one of us suggested a game of truth or dare. However after reviewing the types of dares that might be suggested we decided to stick with playing our slightly modified version of the traditional game. It was that game that finally allowed us to put down the masks we so desperately clung to every day of our lives. For a short while in Amsterdam we allowed ourselves to be seen as exactly who we are.
In Amsterdam our group of designers were trying to define and explore the concept of an Extra National Person. This is the mind map I created to define that person. Secretly I was trying to define myself.. its the most positive thing I have ever said about myself in my life..
I actually used this mind map in a performance I did with a fellow design from Amsterdam on the final day of our workshop. Knowing myself I would have guessed that I could live my entire life with out performing anything in front of an audience.. the reviews were amazing.. and I’m really happy I did it.
Shortly after returning to campus from the Eid Adha holiday many of our VCU-Q students were shocked to find that a small unused corner of the first floor was being used by one of our visiting artists as a mural sized canvas. On part of her canvas, artist Vreni Michelini decided to paint a pair of rather large milk squirting breasts. This apparently struck a very sensitive nerve in our small community. At first there were only quiet whispers and muffled giggles in reaction to the piece.. but it wasn’t long before someone was stomping their feet, waving their finger, and quoting Qatari law in protest of the work. As a result of the uproar the artist felt that the piece was complete and decided to return the wall back to its rather boring previous state of existence.
Though many people rejoiced to see that they had made strong enough waves to silence Ms. Michelni, many others were quite upset to see the work disappear. In the Deans note to everyone at VCU she explained that Ms. Michelini’s work “centers on issues of cultural transition and women’s empowerment” which makes me assume this piece specifically addresses those topics. If so, I have to wonder, wouldn’t it have been wise of Ms. Michelini to have talked to local woman regarding their ideas on empowerment? Quite a few female students made the comment that they couldnt understand how being immodest equates to women’s empowerment at all, if anything they saw it as a degradation to their status. Had she known this, I wonder if Ms. Michelini would have chosen to purposefully alienate the group she was trying to empower.
Personally, I wasn’t really sure how I felt about the piece. You see I come from a very conservative background (emphasis on very). But I also went to art school in the states, and by the time I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in photography I had seen almost all my classmates naked (in photos). So, I guess I had mixed feeling about the work. On one hand, I found it pretty shocking to see enormous breasts painted on the wall of a school based in Qatar, because it was based in Qatar, but on the other hand, I’ve seen quite a few breasts in my art career and these were not the most vulgar that I had seen. Because I wasn’t sure where I stood on the topic I chose to keep quiet and just listen. But as I was listening it dawned on me.. if we are going to get out our thick black markers and start censoring our campus, where should we draw the line? And who gets to do the drawing? At first it seems pretty simple, right? No nudity, problem solved. Well, not really. VCU-Q is an arts program. By definition these programs tend to be liberal, the idea being that no restrictions would allow students to be as creative as possible. So in a program where by default people should be able to express themselves in any way they choose, the question again posses itself “who gets to decide what is expressed and what is not?”. Where do we draw the line? Should our students be segregated because the most conservative people in our society think that the mixing of genders is shameful? Should music no longer be played in drawing studios for the same reasons? What if someone decides to illustrate the story of “The Three Little Pigs”? What happens then?
I do not deny that the work of our artist in residence shows quite a bit of cultural insensitivity, but the fact that she felt she had to remove it makes me worry about giving the power to censor our freedom of expression to the most conservative part of our community.