Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

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[BRIEF NOTE] They're not getting the point in Côte-St-Luc

The council of the Montréal borough of Cote-St-Luc wanted to publicize the case of Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist tortured to death by the Iranian secret police after she took pictures of student protesters being arrested. To do so, they mounted an exhibition of 21 of her photos in a local library. This angered some people, as CBC Montreal reports:

An exhibition featuring the work of Zahra Kazemi has been taken down, following complaints it was too sympathetic to the Palestinian uprising.

Her son says dismantling the exhibition shows a lack of respect for her life's work.

Kazemi died on July 11, 2003, while in police custody after she was arrested taking photographs of a demonstration outside a prison in Iran.

Because the borough council wanted to draw attention to the ongoing fight to find out what happened to Zahra Kazemi, it commissioned an exhibition of a series of her photographs.

The large, black-and-white images showed Middle Easterners going about their lives.

But a few of them also show scenes of the Intifada, the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza.

The library where they are being displayed is in Cote-St-Luc, which has a large Jewish population.

Someone complained, and the library decided to remove several of the photographs.

That was too much for Kazemi's son Stephan Hachemi, who calls it, "the rape of the spirit" of his mother's work.

Hachemi gave the borough an ultimatum: either exhibit all the photos or none of them, and so the exhibit has been closed.

Borough Mayor Robert Libman says the gallery at the library isn't there to provoke controversy.

"It's a very complicated conflict, and to create an impression where the Palestinian cause is being martyred by oppression by the Israeli government, we don't consider that to be a fair portrait," Libman said Tuesday.

Libman says in the future such politically-charged work won't be displayed at the library.

I'm attracted to the idea that art should be transgressive, should be shocking, appeals to me at a certain level. I'm equally attracted to the idea that public art should be used to demonstrate community values, like (say) the importance of life and freedom of expression. The borough council of Cote-St-Luc apparently agreed with me on both counts, at least until it suddenly decided that art that transgresses the borough's community norms shouldn't be displayed.

All this just goes to show that we don't live in a post-ironic age after all: Kazemi wasn't killed because she was a photojournalist, rather, she was killed because she was a photojournalist who challenged the conventions of the Islamic Republic. Cote-St-Luc's borough council and the Islamic Republic aren't morally equivalent, of course. I'm just disappointed to see that the members of the former institution have so poorly internalized the norms they once so publically supported.
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