When Art Becomes A Violent Attack

I never know what to expect when I get up in the mornings, and have given up expecting the normal cycle of things, because there simply is no more “normal” as we used to know it. On some days I know exactly what I want out of life, have a clear idea how and where I want to channel my passions, and the next day, I get thrown a curve ball out of the blues, and I get to start planning all over again. There is no telling either whether I am going to be a reluctant spectator of unfolding events or an active participant. I prefer a balance, but as I’ve said before, 2020 changed the rules of the game and I find myself being called up to become not only participant but also a catalyst for change, and this is a scary thing because of all the risks involved.

I am not the only one going through a strange cycle though, and there are people, places and situations being revealed and exposed that make me shake my head in utter disbelief. Let me give one impression that left me aghast this morning: click HERE to read the article in question. It is important you read the article, otherwise nothing else I write here will make sense. Now art, as well all know is a very personal matter – in terms of interpretation, appreciation and expression. The artist’s intentions don’t always come across, or the final installation is so bizarre and controversial that it sparks uproar, fury and debate. Such is the case with Erik Kessels. I have no idea what he was thinking when he designed the controversial “Destroy My Face” installation as part of the BredaPhoto Exhibition, but one thing is for sure, I don’t think he expected the worldwide backlash and online attacks he received, and rightly so.

As one who has spent an inordinate amount of time in surgery having my face reconstructed from cleft palate and hare lip, I am extremely sensitive about having my photograph taken, being put in the spotlight for my scars and deformities (as a child), but most of all, I cannot stomach being attacked for not living up to the perceived standards of normality and beauty. Undergoing reconstructive or plastic surgery is a risk, and it can go smoothly or horribly wrong and you will have to live with the consequences no matter what. These are demons I know all too well, and still haunt me.

My own path to acceptance of my image has been long and painful, so to see someone take random images from the internet without permission of the subject and use them in a disgraceful and disrespectful manner touches a raw nerve but also enrages me. It is one thing to challenge an issue and use your artistic ability to do so, or to expose certain ugly truths about society in general as I do through my fiction, but when you involve another person in a photograph there is a clearly defined line of responsibility and consensus. The method used to select the photographs is already unethical in my book, but to purposely encourage others to further destroy the faces by skating over the images ventures into the realm of violence.

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