The Tate Did What?

Brilliant. Perfect. Let’s let worries about ‘offending’ religious sensitivities determine what art we’re not allowed to see. What a good idea! Why didn’t someone think of it sooner? It would save such a huge amount of trouble, for one thing – we would all have to spend so much less time in museums and at the theatre and reading blasfeeemous books. Think how much more efficient we would be. We would be able to put new colours on the stripes in toothpaste. We would make the world a more beautiful (and of course less blasfeemous) place.

One of Britain’s leading conceptual artists has accused the Tate gallery of ‘cowardice’ after it banned one of his major works for fear of offending some Muslims after the London terrorist bombings. John Latham’s God Is Great consists of a large sheet of thick glass with copies of Islam, Christianity and Judaism’s most sacred texts – the Koran, Bible and Talmud – apparently embedded within its surface. The work was due to go on display last week in an exhibition dedicated to Latham at London’s Tate Britain, but gallery officials took the unprecedented decision to veto it because of political and religious sensitivities.

Well that certainly sounds offensive and blasfeemous. I can see why the Tate was all in a swivet.

Tate Britain says that it had to take the ‘difficult decision’ to avoid its motives being misunderstood given the attacks, which killed 52 people in July, and the present political climate. However, it admitted it had not consulted the Metropolitan Police or the Muslim Council of Britain.

What? It hadn’t what? It hadn’t ‘consulted’ the cops or the Muslim Council of Britain? The MCB is running things now? People are supposed to ‘consult’ it? People who are wondering if a given piece of art might or might not be ‘offensive’ to Muslims are supposed to ‘consult’ the MCB? Because – what? They have such a good record on that kind of thing? What with boycotting the Holocaust, and thinking death is too good for Salman Rushdie?

Why are they the people to consult? Why, why, why? They’re just a self-appointed group, they’re not elected, they’re not representative, they’re not ‘the Muslim community’ – why are they given some kind of de facto official role? Not that anyone should be given such a role, but that goes double for the MCB.

Last night Latham, 84, who insists that the piece is not anti-Islamic, told The Observer: ‘Tate Britain have shown cowardice over this. I think it’s a daft thing to do because if they want to help the militants, this is the way to do it.’

Yeah you could say that! Flop down on the floor and show your belly, cringe, whine, cry, pee on the floor, sweat, faint, and then send the Tate’s entire inventory to a secret vault in Kidderminster lest something might someday offend someone. That’s what I call curating!

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, supported the artist. ‘We share his concern,’ she said. ‘I don’t know what precise thought processes were going on at the Tate but I am concerned about the signal this sends at a time when we see free speech quite significantly under threat. I think that after 7 July we need this kind of artistic expression and political expression and discourse and disagreement more than ever, which is why this is worrying. Is three holy books in a piece of glass going to incite controversy? Frankly, whether it does or doesn’t, controversy is what we have in a flourishing democracy.’ She added: ‘I ultimately level my criticisms against legislators and certain lobby groups who’ve allowed free speech to be put in such peril and are making the climate that leads the Tate to have this kind of nervousness.’

Exactly. It’s that wretched religious hatred bill – plus the media’s bad habit of treating the MCB as some sort of official Spokesgroup.

Stephen Deuchar, director of Tate Britain, defended the gallery’s decision to hold back the piece…’It was a very difficult decision,’ he said, ‘but we made it due to the exceptional circumstances of this summer and in the light of opinions that we value regarding religious sensitivities.’

Why? Why do you value those opinions? And especially, why do you value them so much that you grovel before them and let them influence what you do? Why?

The Muslim Council of Britain was not consulted on the issue. Sir Iqbal Sacranie, its secretary, said: ‘I’m not aware of this particular exhibition, nor I am aware of any Muslim group that has protested. However, if the art gallery itself felt the display of the divine and holy books in such a manner would be deeply offensive to the believers of the three religions and therefore withdrew it, then I respect their decision.’

Yes I bet you do! I bet you’re just hugging yourself with glee. I bet you feel that the MCB has really arrived at last – that along with the K, getting the Tate to withdraw a sculpture without even asking it to must mean the MCB has some pretty impressive clout.

Well I don’t respect their decision. I hope they get a torrent of outrage and mockery and contempt that makes their fears of an imagined ‘offended’ Muslim community look like a pack of butterflies out for a waltz. That’s what I hope.

14 Responses to “The Tate Did What?”