Muslim art students call nude crude

Readers debate both sides of argument

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Re: “Muslim students upset over drawing nudes”
Feb. 8, 2007

To the Editor:
I will play the skeptic about this need for compromise to exempt Muslim art students from life drawing classes.

Is nudity proscribed in Islam? Or do people only say it is? Is nudity proscribed in Christianity? Or do people only say it is?

Muslim students claiming nudity is “against their religion” aren’t new. Others have confused sexual immorality with the unclothed human body in an art class or at a nudist camp or beach.

In art schools, are exceptions made everywhere for Christians who are squeamish about nude art or nude models? No. Then there must be no exceptions for others claiming to follow a particular religion. If students don’t want to confront nudity, they have two options: don’t study art or study it in an Islamic country.

In Frank Cordelle’s internationally acclaimed book Bodies and Souls are photos of two Muslim women completely naked plus (importantly) their statements about their bodies and their lives. Meanwhile, Muslim cab drivers in Minneapolis now refuse to give rides to anyone emerging from the airport carrying a bottle of alcohol.

In the end, Western’s issue isn’t one of religion but of claims about religion and the resulting cultural politics. Western shouldn’t place wrong assumptions ahead of right ones, nor base academic policy on religious claims when they’re disruptive and damaging.
"Dr. Paul Rapoport
Professor (Emeritus)
School of the Arts
McMaster University

To the Editor:
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression visual art was supposed to be about self-expression. If that’s the case, how can professors command obviously devout students to either avoid their area of interest (drawing and painting courses) or present a false expression by drawing something they believe is morally wrong? I have no particular problem with nudity; actually, I’m a fan. But I certainly don’t think it’s so critical to artistic ability that refusing to draw nude bodies should result in a failing grade.

Surely we’re all aware of some of the controversial art that has emerged in the past, like Jana Sterbak’s meat dress (“Vanitas”) or Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ,” and the way the art community has defended these works on the grounds of “freedom of expression.” Artists hate being told they can create their art only if they stay within certain proscribed boundaries, no matter how those conflict with their own personal values. Is it really okay to deny that freedom of expression to some people because their beliefs are not popular or accepted within academia, even as we demand that freedom for our own preferred modes of personal expression?

On the day this story appeared in The Gazette, the editors, as always, printed a quote in tiny letters at the top of the editorial page, directly above their names. I think it deserves to be printed, loud and proud, in full-sized letters, where people may actually read it.

As Leonardo Da Vinci said, “Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.”
"Sara Johnson
Master’s candidate, MLIS

To the Editor:
I disagree with the Muslim students’ complaint regarding the Department of Arts and Humanities’ policy. A student myself, I must register in courses and study materials I don’t agree with. I continue my enrolment and persevere through that material regardless of my viewpoints because I believe an education doesn’t solely comprise of learning about what I want and what I see in the world, but to hear from others as well. An education is an ongoing development that is only possible through the experimentation and acceptance of opinions other than my own.

Course descriptions and content should be up to professors. The accommodation of a few students should be the prof’s decision. The department has been sensitive and has done more than enough by adding the disclaimer in course descriptions. Students should research materials, requirements and expectations before choosing classes. In this situation, it’s the students’ responsibility. The mentioned student has known about this expectation of live nude drawing since her first-year class but made the conscious decision to stay in her program.

I’m offended by Mr. Hassan Ahmad’s response to the situation. I’m a part of many minority groups and I don’t feel his statements adequately advocate the principle of equality. He needs to recognize his statement implies the department and faculty are ignorant and inflexible, which is untrue.

The core of this matter is academic and religious " it’s not about the West or the East. From one student to another, I would advise you to think critically about your opinion before your emotions get the good of it.
"Keith Chau
French & Political Science, IV

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