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"Allah ho gaybar" in the Netherlands
by R. John Matthies • Dec 18, 2007 at 10:31 am
After the violence that greeted the Mohammed cartoons in Denmark, the flap over the Swedish "Modoggies," and demonstrations in reaction to Teddy Bear Mohammed, the Netherlands braces for trouble. At issue is the multimedia exposition "Adam and Ewald, Seventh Day Lovers," compiled on the subject of male homosexuality. Most of the men portrayed in the artist's photobook are Dutch; but several photographs feature Iranian men, who, wishing to remain anonymous, wear masks in the image of Mohammed and son-in-law Ali. Also included is a video production titled "Allah ho gaybar," which goes so far as to depict Mohammed as a homosexual. (The film, since posted to the web, was censored by YouTube.)
The Gemeentemuseum, the Hague's municipal gallery, agreed to purchase the complete series for a December 15 opening, but then declined to exhibit those components that "certain people in our society might perceive it as offensive." (A museum in Gouda finally agreed to display the provocative material.) Museum director Wim van Krimpen explained his decision, saying, to begin: "[We] don't want to serve as a political forum." But he offers little else by way of explanation. The museum denies that it's received threats, but the artist denies this, in turn.
What's most interesting about the exhibit, however, is the artist herself. 34-year-old Sooreh Hera (warning: website includes some graphic content) was born in Teheran, and seeks, through her art, and in her own words, to denounce "hypocrisy with regard to sexuality in the Muslim world." She claims that male homosexual relations are common, if ignored, in the Muslim world—in Iran and Saudi Arabia, especially. And she wishes, in addition, to rebut Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's claim, at Columbia University in September, that "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals like in your country."
Sooreh came to Holland seven years ago, one imagines to pursue her art and passion freely, and to exploit the nation's famous tolerance. She describes her disappointment in words that echo Pim Fortuyn's claim that the Dutch had invited a "Trojan horse of intolerance" into their society in the name of multiculturalism: "I thought I would find freedom of expression in the Netherlands," she complains. "But this is not a free state. It's become an Islamist dictatorship." She says, finally: "Allah is great in the Netherlands, and it's fear that reigns."
Some will quibble, no doubt, with Sooreh's choice of subject, or complain the series was conceived to court controversy, and, by extension, to market her art on the cheap. But what this language obscures is the fact that, in an age deliberately provocative (read: blasphemous) cultural production, Sooreh thinks to grumble: "Apparently a Muslim minority decides what will be on display in the museum." Likewise, and to our point: Sooreh is fairly alone in identifying the "certain people" described by the director as likely to be offended by this display.