Kian not welcome at King's, says Klatt

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Kian and a tughra

Photo courtesy Jamelie Hassan

KING'S ARTWORK CONTROVERSY. Pictured above is the Kian, a piece of art on display at King's University College. Pictured left is a tughra, a strikingly similar Arabic piece of calligraphy.

When London-based artist Jamelie Hassan created Kian, she was intending to promote diversity and address certain stereotypes within the community.

The glowing neon-green sign went up on the front of King’s University College’s Monsignor Lester A. Wemple Building in April.

It may seem innocent, but King’s Professor Emeritus Heinz Klatt claims in an open letter to 150 members of the community the art piece resembles a tughra, a symbol that represents Muslim dominance over Christianity.

“Apparently nobody on the committee that approved the display was aware of the fact that the tughra is a symbol of military conquest of the Christian West,” he said.

Doubtful of his arguments, Hassan insisted Klatt is biased. “I think he’s about something else,” Hassan said. “The criticism from Klatt has another political agenda.”

The artist said the calligraphy she used in her piece was based on another artist in Cairo, Egypt. Kian, meaning “benevolent king” in Persian and “ancient one” in Celtic, was part of a project at King’s aimed at promoting multiculturalism and acceptance.

“The artist and King’s,” Klatt counters, “persistently deny what they injudiciously call a ‘kian’ is a tughra, and nothing else, with the word ‘kian’ superimposed.

“Would you call a swastika, with the word ‘peace’ superimposed, ‘a peace’?”

Tozun Bahcheli, a professor specializing in Middle Eastern studies at King’s disagreed with the negative connotations Klatt attaches to the art.

“This is not a symbol of intolerance " quite the contrary.” Bahcheli countered. “The Ottoman’s recognized different religious groups as distinct and deserving of autonomy.”

Not so, Klatt argues. “The Ottoman Empire’s granting of asylum to Jews was in no way proportional to the destruction of the Christian West.

“It is akin to saying the Nazis and Mussolini were not that bad because the trains in Germany and Italy ran on time.”

Dr. Gerald Killan, principal at King’s, compared the tughra to the cross: “The cross was used as a symbol for the Crusades, but that certainly isn’t what it stands for today.”

Continuing the comparison, Klatt said: “It is unthinkable that a madrasa would display a Christian symbol on its building ... until most recently it was equally inconceivable that a Christian institution in Canada would display a Muslim symbol of power on its wall.

“We lost our good judgment when we allowed multiculturalism to prevail as our secular religion.”

Killan plans to display Hassan’s art along with Jewish and Christian pieces in the new courtyard behind Dante Leonard Hall. The works of art will represent the Abrahamic ties between the three religions.

“We’re trying not to be narrow, we’re trying to be inclusive,” Killan said.

Hassan is not shaken by the controversy. “I am an artist and an activist ... if it offends some people, so be it,” Hassan said.

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