Portia Placino

Repository of my thoughts and images of art, literature, travel, and life.

Teaching controversial art

Teaching controversial art proved to be a difficult endeavor. Part of why this in the syllabus is so that I can teach visual literacy and open-mindedness to my students. Sadly, I don’t think I achieve this goal all the time. This is supposed to be the last lesson of the semester, but I pulled it up because of what happened to the Pussy Riot and their 2-minute video Punk Prayer. I am posting this now because of the controversial movie on Muhammad. It’s really difficult trying to make sense of the controversy, the judgement, and the close-mindedness that occupies people’s minds. Why is it so easy to hate without reason?

Controversial Art: When Art and Society Disagree

Robert Mapplethorpe‘s Man in a Polyester Suit

I try to teach as well as examine my students’ reactions. They still think that Andres Serrano‘s Piss Christ is absolutely disgusting. They are afraid of Robert Mapplethorpe’s Man in a Polyester Suit. They hate Lady Gaga’s Judas. It’s not that I suddenly want them to love and appreciate these things, I merely want to open their minds and look into the aesthetic and unaesthetic ideas of art. I want them to consider it and think about it. There are mature ones, there are attempts. But sadly, there is still a lot of hate, disgust, and fear.

Annie Sprinkle’s Peace Sign

I personally believe that we need to talk about these taboo issues more. Inside the homes, classrooms, and even in extra-curricular activities. Not only when it becomes controversial. Emotions in the arts are important, but sometimes, we need to set our emotions aside and look at things from an intelligent and intellectual level. The main source of the problem is that we don’t talk about it, and when the time comes that we have to, a lot are uninformed about it. Media doesn’t help as it is usually them who sensationalize these things. Education and intellectual discussion is what we need.

Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ

Last year’s Poleteismo issue is not over yet, even if the Cultural Center of the Philippines decided that it would go on as usual by awarding the 13 Artists Award. They failed to stand behind their own awardee, yet here they are giving their awards once again. We need to talk about controversial issues. We need to face it. Maybe when there are enough lessons about it, I can say puki (vagina) and titi (penis) in class without my students cringing. They asked me not to use these terms as it is unbecoming of my role and status at a teacher, even after I explained that these are just natural body parts and unmalicious words. It is us who puts the malice in it, us and the institutions who supports such beliefs. When we understand where our thoughts and feelings are coming from, maybe we can master them and direct where they would go next time. We need not fear or hate images, we may not like it, but we should at least try to understand it.

Theo Van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Submission, brought on strong reactions from my students. Unfortunately, a lot of them also rejected it as they are tired from facing such heavy issues of controversial art. This is the first time that I consciously included these things in the syllabus and made an entire lecture about it. Maybe next time, I can approach them more gently, but I don’t see how. Theo van Gogh and innumerable other’s deaths cannot be meaningless. We have a lot of issues to face, and the best way to go is to begin facing them.

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