The Late Great Aesthetic Taboos
by Ghazi Barakat
from Apocalypse Culture 2, edited by Adam Parfrey, Feral House, Venice California, 2000
It is now possible for the U.S. government to send an artist to prison for a painting or drawing that portrays a person under 18 years of age in a sexual manner. In Germany, and even in Canada, a person can be sentenced for using a swastika if it is deemed pro-Nazi rather than used in the approved historic or artistic context. The decision regarding artistic merit is usually left to an unqualified, ignorant and self-righteous judge or jury; the lack of clarity surrounding these laws is a serious infringement on freedom of expression. The "holy" First Amendment has become a constitutional joke, and for every battle won in its honor, many losses go unheard of. Our society is more concerned with protecting feelings and wealthy corporate hypocrites than protecting the right for artists to depict subjects of their choice (even if the context in which they use them is hard to swallow).
It's all a matter of context. You can catch Hitler on the History cable channel daily. Pre-pubescent girls bearing naked bee-sting tits are used to sell Calvin Klein products in magazines available on every newsstand in the country.
Total disapproval is demanded by the media concerning neo-Nazism, terrorism, hate crimes, and particularly, the sexual abuse of little children. But, the media is perfectly willing to sensationalize and exploit these subjects - see JonBenet Ramsey, Collumbine massacre, Oklahoma City Bombing and the Unabomber. And an artist depicting these recurring themes could be subject to prison.
At first glance, it seems an increasing tolerance for "obscene" or "offensive" art has come about in the last two decades. Larry Flynt was glamorized in a major Hollywood picture, and in an obscenity trial of the rap group 2 Live Crew, the jury actually asked the judge if they could laugh when hearing the censored lyrics. Liberal movements, such as gay rights, have prevailed. Sophisticated pornography on fetishes and subversive themes in general have become more available to the public, largely due to the advent of the Internet. It appears that Western society has more freedom of expression than ever before.
Too bad this idea is a myth. The prevailing political correctness has evolved into a new kind of Puritanism. The same people who fight for the rights of gays are the first to strike out against something that does not fit their agenda.
In Chicken Hawk, a documentary film on North American Man-Boy Love Association, many gays adamantly spoke out against NAMBLA even though the only apparent difference in their movements was a small age differences as to whom they want to suck and fuck. Taboos of pedophilia and the swastika have come in handy to generate oppressive hysteria. Even among the professed open-minded, any attempt to suspend judgment about these subjects is interpreted as tacit approval. In the past century many artists have dedicated themselves to abolishing sexual, sociological and religious taboos. But once these artists become an established part of our economy and culture, their political bravado loses all its effect, and its message must be asserted again and again. The work of Stuart Mead, Trevor Brown, Beth Love and the recently deceased Blalla W. Hallmann are examples of the Sisyphus-like struggle against political and sexual taboos. Stuart Mead's work contains a definite fetishistic character, especially towards little girls. Mead says that his sexuality is stuck in a pre-adolescent stage due to severe physical handicaps that forced him to develop his own sexual universe. Spectators viewing Med's work may very well feel like a Peeping Tom spying through a keyhole. Viewers (voyeurs) get sucked into a dream-world, where pre-adolescent creatures engage in explicit sexual acts. Mead's phantasmagoric erotic universe combines hare-brained sexual fantasies in a humorous, surreal manner. An immense catalogue of perversions, Mead's work is in some ways reminiscent of de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom. Astonishingly, Mead's paintings and drawings share obsessions with outsider artist Henri Darger, whose "realms of the unreal," were only discovered after his death, and who - like Mead - attaches penises to underage girls' genitals. Unlike de Sade and Darger, Mead is not particularly keen on cruelty, and seems more inclined to explore a pedophilic inclination, which has a long personal and artistic history.
Oedipal and filicidal archetypes permeate the concept of the family itself with incestuous and homicidal temptations; taboos are inducted to prevent desires that already exist. Mythological representations of childlike beauty throughout history often carry a suggestivity of erotic character. The thin line between parental affection and sexual abuse becomes as fragile as the hymen. Symbols of innocence and virginity are destroyed whenever this line is crossed. These tragic psychodramas occur with the best of families. Would it be in poor taste to ask "why not?" when dealing with these particular subjects? Must we content ourselves with merely asking "why?"
Born in 1955 and raised in Waterloo, Iowa, Stuart Mead was stricken with arthrogryposis, a prenatal condition comparable to polio, affecting joints and muscles. Stuart's disease inflicted on him a feeling of inferiority. Moving to England with his folks for a short time in the mid-'70s, Stuart returned to Iowa City in 1977 to live on his own. In 1983, Mead started his schooling at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, from which he graduated in 1987. After graduating he met Frank Gaard, founder of the graphical fanzine Art Police (1974–1994), who is still an influential figure and teacher in the Minneapolis art scene. Gaard's aesthetic background is rooted in anti-mainstream Chicago imagists (better known as Hairy Who), a group that included or were inspired by the remarkably subversive artists Jim Nutt and Peter Saul. Gaard encouraged Mead, who was a tame art student, to visit a whole new approach to his work. In 1991 Gaard and Mead created Man Bag, a Xeroxed 'zine exclusively interested in sex. Man Bag has appeared irregularly to this day, allowing Mead to encounter and release his sexual fantasies about little girls. Through Man Bag and some of the readers' perverse letters, Mead confronted consciously and analytically what we might call "the ugliness of pedophilia."
Bestiality incest, sado-masochism, coprophagia, defecation, urination, child lesbianism, incestuous lesbianism, hermaphrodity, homosexuality, fellatio, sodomy and all forms of blasphemy have been integrated and become standards of Mead's bizarre erotic world. Not only has Mead created an outlet to his perverted sexual fantasies, but he's managed to show his art in a number of galleries in the U.S. and Europe.
In many ways Mead's work has become increasingly offensive in recent years the sort only found in dark corners of porn stores. In commercial pornography, strict laws forbit the crossbreeding of sexual fetishes. For example, S&M and hardcore cannot be mixed. The perverse laws launched against the perverted have not stopped Stu Mead's thematic output. In fact, slides of his work were once handed over to the police by a photo development store in Minneapolis. A few weeks later, a police officer stopped by Mead's house to inform him that what he was drawing was legal, but that the matter was being looked into by cops specializing in vice and child abuse. Mead was forced to hire a lawyer, who discovered the cops were merely harassing him due to the subject matter of his work. Transporting the paintings of Mead and Blalla Hallmann across U.S. borders received quite a bit of attention from U.S. Customs agents. One officer, offended by a Mead painting of a little girl urinating and defecating beside a fountain, cried out, "Look! There is a child urinating!" to which his fellow officers responded, "This is just a drawing."
The fantastic and unrealistic nature of Stu Mead's art probably makes it possible for galleries and publishers to exhibit and reproduce his work, though its themes encounter the outer limits of legality. Mead's Freudian approach to his own sexuality is very close to surrealism and he often refers to the paintings and drawings of Hans Bellmer and Balthus as inspiring his own work. Bellmer and Balthus have both made no secret of their attraction towards young, female objects of desire.
Trevor Brown's obsession for swastikas and kids are evident in his overt art. Because they're so well-drawn they're often derided as being mere "illustration," but their artistic value is remarkably evident. His books, Evil and Alphabet, though available in the United States in very small numbers, are banned outright in his home country, Japan
The work of [UNPOP Artist] Beth Love of New Mexico expands on an "innocent" Victorian aesthetic by integrating sick-minded contemporary horror beneath her primary subjects, and within the background. The stowing away of such dread renders the id-forms all the more astonishing.
Blalla W. Hallman (1941 - 1997) was born in Quirl, Silesia, a territory annexed by the allies after WWII. Beginning his career as a naïve painter in the late '50s, Blalla was through out of the U.S. a persona non grata the late '60s due to one episode of drug psychosis while teaching Art at the California State University at San Francisco. His disappointment with capitalism and Western culture notably blossomed after being deported. Proclaiming himself "the ambassador of hate," Blalla said that "humans are bloodbags full of shit." Sickened by overpopulation as a method for capitalism to increase its polluting riches, Blalla promoted the curtailment of reproduction: "Chop off the family tree, as the whole world is going down the drain."
Blalla's hatred towards the Third Reich, the Vatican, and the United States doesn't bother to differentiate between the three. In his paintings, the cross and swastika are replaced by the dollar sign, money being the new God that makes the world go 'round. A museum exhibition of Blalla Hallman's work in Bavaria was shut down because a painting of Helmut Kohl showed him engaging in explicit sexual conduct. To "celebrate" German reunification in 1990, Blalla painted his "Black Series," ten blasphemous artworks about Hitler in order to kill the "inner Fascist" in oneself.
Frequently comparing religious catechism and education with child abuse, Blalla believed that history, folklore and historic legacy and Christianity are lies manufactured to perpetuate controlling bullshit. Blalla despised the Art world, whose stars, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke and Josef Beuys were seen as brown-nosing valets to the rich. Remarking that every paintings these guys were selling was money he wasn't making, Blalla believed that the aforementioned artists were stealing from him. Soured by gallery and museum exhibitions, Blalla insisted that all contributors should sign their paintings with the phrase, "I lied!" Asked why there was so much shit in his work, Blalla replied, "Because everything is shit ... It's gonna take a while until they're going to advertise a perfume with a beautiful model posing next to a turd."
Ghazi Barakat was born November 10th 1965. He is a musician (Boy from Brazil), transformist, eroticist and a self-taught art aficionado. He lives and works in Berlin.