Image from "Exhibit B"
Writing in The New Republic, Edinburgh-based sociologist and writer Tiffany Jenkins poses the question, "Have we entered a new wave of artistic censorship in Europe?" She looks to the case studies of Exhibit B, a play recreating a human zoo with African actors that was written by a white South African; and the removal of Mujeres Públicas' piece, “Cajita de fósforos” (2005) in the exhibition Really Useful Knowledge at the Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid. "Cajita de fósforos" is a matchbox printed with the words “The only church that illuminates is one which burns. Contribute!", and was protested by Christians in Spain.
Such debates aren't new, of course, but there are important differences between the demands for censorship of the past and those of the present. Historically, those calling for censorship were often concerned that an artwork—perhaps of a sexual nature—would have a coarsening effect and a negative moral impact. Today's activists have a different rationale. They argue that they are the only ones who have the right to speak about the experience depicted—and thus, have the right to silence those who have no comparable experience. So those protesting Exhibit B suggest they, as members of the black community, are the only ones who can create an artwork exploring slavery and colonization. “Brett Bailey touche pas a mon historie” ("Don’t touch my history") reads one placard. The Christian protesters in Spain argue that they have a unique insight into their religion and should be able to close down other views. Both reject anyone else’s interpretation of the works as valid. We cannot understand each other's different lives, they imply.
Do you agree with Jenkins? Are these new forms of censorship palpably different than older forms? It seems problematic to say that something generally positive, such as renewed attention paid to social justice and the societal rejection of black exploitation, could cause something negative, such as censorship.