Two recent incidents, one involving riots and another involving Twitter, continued a global spate of censorship and defacement of art due to cultural and religious sensitivities. These developments follow on the heels of the vandalizing of a political artwork last month in South Africa.
Police arrested dozens Tuesday in Tunis after Salafi Muslims and others clashed over artworks that were thought to insult Islam. Protesters lobbed rocks and bombs; the police deployed tear gas. According to Tunisia Live, the fracas started at the Printemps des Arts Fair in the suburban La Marsa area, which is now in its 11th year. Several artworks were destroyed.
The tension comes in a country riven with religious and cultural conflicts in the wake of the Arab Spring. President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled the country in January after a month of street protests.
Meanwhile, another conflict over potentially offensive imagery, also with Islam at its core, played out via social media.
Artist David Shrigley recently posted on Facebook and Twitter that a gallery had declined to show at the Art Basel fair (June 14–17) his drawing of Osama bin Laden, captioned, “He believed that he was doing the right thing.”
“My gallery decided not to show this at Basel for fear of offending Americans,” Shrigley said on Facebook on May 31. “I don’t think they would have minded.”
(While The Art Newspaper reported that the gallery in question was Stephen Friedman, Shrigley tweeted on June 12 saying it was not. His website directs interested customers to Yvon Lambert, Nicolai Wallner, Anton Kern and BQ.)
Shrigley followed up with another Tweet, saying he was seeking alternative works to show, and showing an image of a defecating person with the caption “everybody likes shit.”
“The gallery probably isn’t going to like this one either,” the artist tweeted.
While no one can say for sure whether Shrigley’s sympathetic portrayal of bin Laden would have been well received, the image of American collectors taking up arms against the drawing, Tunis-style, requires a truly Shrigley-esque imagination.
Reporting for this story was conducted by Berin Golonu.