Destroy/rebuild

I posted something other than an cheeky meme on Facebook today. As an art lover and life-long student of art history I am horrified by where the destruction of public monuments could end up. Will we see protesters storming our national galleries and museums? I bloody hope not. I mean, these institutions are far from perfect but burning things to the ground is not a good place to start. We just have to look back at the Communards (members and supporters of the short-lived 1871 Paris Commune not the band…) to see that is a bad plan. While we’re at it, let’s stop mining companies from destroying ancient indigenous sites!

I’m going to get a little political here but wasn’t it Foucault who said everything is political?

This is my post from Facebook.

When the Taliban destroys statues, it’s terrorism. What is it when we do it? The men of the far-right sects of Islam believe with all their heart that they are doing a great thing in destroying icons of other religions and cultures. They’re operating from a world-view that leaves no room for any other view. Do we need to look back over our history and see where we can do better? Abso-fuckin-lutely, but the hysterical destruction of artefacts isn’t the place to start. How can we look back and learn if there is nothing but rubble?

Isn’t this why the concentration camps were preserved?

Those who are tearing down monuments believe they are working to make the world a fairer place. That’s an admirable goal but there are better ways to do it.
Now is a perfect time for artists and activists to work together to show the works and deeds of the rainbow of amazing humans who have built this society.
Can you believe it was only a few short years ago that a young woman was receiving death threats because she campaigned successfully to see a woman’s face on a note of British currency. We have a long way to go but we can do better because we want a better world.

Want peace, start within. Want to heal the planet, start with your home. Want to save the world, start by loving your family and friends.

I’m not going to comment on the situation in Europe or the USA. I’m Australian and I think Australia has done a lot in recent years in making the arts, if not life, more inclusive even if the conservative governments haven’t exactly made it easy at times. There are many institutions working to ensure access and representation to all members of society and I’m really proud of this. It was only a few years ago that the only art and stories we would see in our museums, on tv, or in our literature were those of the white male. This has improved out of sight…The bar was set pretty low; am I just being grateful for a few scraps? Women, 50.7% of the population, have always been under-represented in art museums but that is improving.

The problem is we lost out on all kinds of amazing art made by all kinds of amazing people over the years, art we will never get back.

However… In a surprising reversal of fortunes, Australian literary prizes are now dominated by women prompting (conservative newspaper) The Australian to print this lament in December 2019.

Women are now so dominant across several coveted awards, their unprecedented success raises some intriguing questions: Is one form of gender imbalance being replaced by another? Is the literary lion who won award after award and shaped much of 20th-century literature now a threatened species, or are female writers enjoying an overdue moment of cultural recognition?

The Australian, Dec 6, 2019.

Seriously? (Just don’t scroll down on that article and read the comments…)

Okay, so the women are having some time in the sun… Then there’s the media. The Women’s Leadership Institute Australia 2019 Women for Media Report: ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ was critical of the representation of women in the media. “Focusing on mainstream Australian digital media sites, the results demonstrate the critical and ongoing need for a stronger women’s presence in the media. As authors Jenna Price and Anne Maree Payne highlight, “Women make up 50.7 per cent of the population; but the stories which appear in the media do not reflect that reality”.
 
The research provides a snapshot of Australia’s 15 most influential news sites on four consecutive Thursdays in October 2018. Key findings include:​

  • Women account for 34% of direct sources quoted and 24% of indirect sources (sources named but not directly quoted)
     
  • Approximately 50% of the sites achieved gender parity on the representation of male and female journalists
     
  • Female journalists wrote 76% of celebrity and royals stories, approximately 40% of stories relating to government, politics, business, finance, law, crime and justice, and 12% of sport stories.}

From the Women for Media Report

But there are still systemic issues limiting access for minorities. Art shows and education are a great start but for those who can’t secure reliable housing or income, awards and grants are the last thing on their minds. Then there are the small but very vocal peanut gallery (I shouldn’t have read the comment section on that article…) who are emboldened by the right-wing media and conservative governments and are content with the status quo (white, male, wealthy peeps have all the access) while everyone else scrambles for the crumbs.

It’s a start…


Much of the work of French artist Ernest Meissonier was destroyed after the artist’s death. This wasn’t due to any fall from grace on his behalf. He was incredibly wealthy and successful during his lifetime and instrumental in the development of movie cameras among other things. Why would museums melt down his sculptures and hide his paintings in back rooms?

His crime? According to Ross King’s book The Judgement of Paris, the French art establishment was so mortified they had completely ‘missed’ the Impressionists they ‘retaliated’ by destroying the work of the most famous artist of the time. Few of his works remain. Showed him…

Campaign of France, 1814, oil on wood by Ernest Meissonier, Orsay Museum, Paris

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