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Beware of the art
by Dimitris Kontogiannis
2015-06-08 11:51:31
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dim01_400I love writing about censorship. It’s one of my favorite topics because it can reveal all the hypocrisy and the propriety of our society. Until now, 2015 has been a very good year for censorship. We saw politicians trying to benefit from the Charlie Hebdo murders, we saw the Greek Prime Minister condemning publicly a caricaturist and many more typical cases. But, if there was a “Hypocrisy and Censorship award 2015” for Greek society, now we’d have a winner since I doubt than in the remaining months of this year we’ll have a case revealing our hypocrisy in all its greatness.

In a central Athenian square there was an artistic projection on a parking wall. The name of the exhibition of the Onassis Cultural Center was “Stills” from Kris Verdonck and it depicted two naked giants trying and failing to escape the boundaries of the wall their image was projected on. Their image was based on the Caryatides, the imposing ancient Greek female statues, and, as the artist himself said, “it’s mostly about proud people, men and women, who often support the ideology of a particular architecture, frozen in a trying pose, either their muscles in a great tension. Sometimes they’re half creatures, half human and half building, giants or details, but always the background of our everyday life. In “Stills”, the projected characters are not so heroic; they are everyday people like you and me, who doubt the ideologies.”

But some people were offended by the nakedness of the giants and, after complaining to the authorities, they forced the Onassis Cultural Center to stop projecting those pictures. Let us stop for a moment and focus on the fact that some people were offended by nakedness.

dim03We Greeks have a huge similarity with most of the other people in the world: we are proud of our ancestors’ achievements, for which we had absolutely no participation. Meanwhile, while basking in the reflected glory of the things they did without us, we make sure that our ears are closed to the things they dim02wanted us to learn but we don’t like. Thus, we end up bragging to ourselves for something that is a product of our imagination and not a part of reality, oblivious for the lessons our ancestors wanted us to learn and to transmit to the next generations. There’s no need for me to further explain what I think we all have an example of in our minds (my personal favorite is those with far-right beliefs who claim that “all we need for Greece is another military junta”, who chose to forget the glory of the tyrant-killers of the ancient Athens).

In this case, living in Greece and being offended from nakedness in art is completely absurd. All it takes is for one to see an ancient Greek statue to see what I mean. It’s not just the element of innocence or humanity that is radiated from the view of a naked body. It’s also the nature of "heroic nudity", something that the creator of “stills” undoubtedly knew when he made people strong and muscular unable to escape their shackles. Almost all heroic figures of ancient Greece are depicted naked, something that of course was revived by the renaissance and can be observed in statues like Michelangelo’s Davis. Of course, in some cases of nudity there was the erotic element, but the distinction was obvious: when you see naked Olympic champions it’s because of the heroic element and because they were competing nude. There was nothing for them to fear or to hide. When you see goddess Aphrodite or the famous “well endowed” Satires, your mind instantly goes to the erotic element, as obviously was the artist’s intention. All it takes is to understand is to see in the photograph the statue of Aphrodite Kallipygos (with the nice bottom), made from the famous Praxiteles.

It is shameful, not to project naked images from something that obviously is a piece of meaningful art, but to be offended by a form of art that, if we want to consider ourselves classical Greek education holders, we should be used to. At Brussels there is the famous statue of the peeing boy and we were offended by the naked giants.

dim04If rumors about a priest making the call to the authorities are true, then it gets even funnier. All it takes to understand the irony of the situation is to remember that, according to Genesis, the first book of the Bible, Adam and Eve were naked until eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge. With a fast Google search we can find a few dozens of churches were Adam and Eve are depicted before sinning, so they are, of course, naked. In the side picture you can see what, as it seems, is consider from some people to be hardcore pornography. You see, even hagiographers knew the use of nakedness, even in a place of pray. Sometimes it is there to reveal the sinners at the hour of judgment, sometimes it is there to reveal those who are innocent and pure, like the first humans before sin.

But there is also another side of this story. Let’s say that a grumpy old priest was offended by the view of naked bodies because he didn’t like art or because he didn’t have a proper education to properly appreciate what he was seeing. Why did our state accept to end the projection of the aforementioned piece of art? Nakedness is in our dim05_400churches, our school books, our museums and we are supposed to be proud of it. Who the heck gave the order to stop the projection of an art piece because someone didn’t have enough taste or knowledge of history? What kind of laws protects this cultural illiteracy? And, to make some “stupid” questions, do we know that some of the “Elgin” statues are naked? Are those too illegal to exhibit so, should they be somewhere where naked art is allowed to be exhibited? But I forgot, we are proud for the “Elgin” statues, so them being naked is fine.

Why are some of us offended and why are we hiding something that obviously is a work of art? Before we answer, let’s wonder about this: why should the proud to be Greek Prime Minister apologize for a cartoon, offensive aw it may be, even though it obviously is also a work of art?

Art’s power is tremendous and may scare some people. Art showed us at an Athenian wall the way we live and censorship showed us the way we think. Thus, the answer to those two questions is the same. It is the first, according to the Bible, answer, that of Adam to God: “I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself”. Only someone, part from physically, can also be naked mentally...


Main photo: FFF_STILLS - Kris Verdonck / Credit: Stavros Petropoulos

Photo of David and Boy Peeing: Wikipedia

Photo of Adam and Eve: panosz.wordpress.com

Photo of Aphrodite Kallipygos: Dorothy King


Translated in English from Greek, from the Greek magazine apopseis 


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Emanuel Paparella2015-06-08 15:18:27
Indeed, the nakedness is more mental and spiritual than physical, and that may be the key to the conundrum of nakedness and indecency which most societies condemn by law. We are naked and poor mentally and spiritually because we have forgotten what the ancient taught us, that the physical, the mental and the spiritual are interrelated and necessary characteristics of our humanity. When the ancient Athenians or the Renaissance Florentines looked upon or depicted or sculpted a naked body they saw the beauty of a body but also the beauty of a mind and a spirit which is revealed by a perfect body and especially the face which is the mirror of the soul and of the mind. One will understand precious little about the soul and the mind from contemplating human genitals but one may intuit the beauty of a soul from a face or from the whole beautiful and perfect body. To watch Michelangelo’s David from the neck down and neglect the face is to diminish the very humanity of a human being fall into the pronographic positivistic fallacy of considering a material body as all important and forgetting the intellect and the soul which are integral part of our humanity. That is the real tragedy of the barbaric times we happen to live in; positivistic times which consider religion as superseded and appreciate only the material and often enough what is ugly in the material.

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