Volume 95, Issue 16

Thursday, September 27, 2001
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Editorial Board 2001-2002

Too little, too late

Editorial Cartoon

Too little, too late

Art has always been controversial. But rarely ever is an exhibit the spotlight of controversy because the artist or artists behind the art are of a particular ethnic background.

The decision initially made by the National Museum of Civilization in Ottawa was that the art of 26 Arab-Canadians entitled "Lands Within Me" was inappropriate to exhibit under the tense public atmosphere following the events in the United States on Sept. 11.

The museum has since rescinded the decision and has informed the public the exhibit will be displayed.

Despite the fact it will be available for viewing by the public, the initial decision made by the National Museum of Civilization to suspend the exhibit was, in all respects, ridiculous.

How could a museum, whose slogan is "many cultures, one country" possibly justify this?

A museum's role is to educate. Its mandate is to make art and culture accessible to the public.

Granted, the attacks of Sept. 11 were committed by terrorists from the Middle East. But their actions were those of maniacs and hardly reflect the people of the Middle East as a whole or anyone of that cultural background.

What kind of an example does this set when a federally-funded cultural institution cancels an exhibit simply because those who produced the art happen to be Arab or Arab-descendants.

Reason would seem to dictate that in light of the events of Sept. 11, displaying the exhibit is more than appropriate. Having been saturated by the media and television, an exhibit like this could diffuse many of the inaccurate stereotypes being shoved down the public's throat.

Here is an opportunity for Canadians to learn more about facet of Canada's many cultures. Rather than being subjected to the media's periodic generalization that Arabs are terrorists, the exhibit is an opportunity for Canada's Arab community to have their artistic voices heard. It visually reaffirms their one integral part of our country and society.

The content of the exhibit has nothing to do with terrorism. It is simply a celebration of Arab culture, diversity and creativity. Yet because the artists are of Arabic descent, the welcome mat was rolled up instead of out.

The museum originally said they would prefer to run the show during a less emotional time so the Canadian public could better appreciate it.

What harm could an art exhibit cause?

It doesn't matter who created it. Art is simply art. Who decides what art will or will not be seen by the public? It certainly shouldn't be a museum. Let the public decide. If people don't want to see it, they won't.

The initial decision made by the museum to suspend the exhibit was wrong and the museum's quick reversal may be a little too late.

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Copyright The Gazette 2001