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May 27, 2019 | by  | in Features Splash | [ssba]

‘Then You Can’t Tell Me Not***g Right?’

I love Kanye. Now, I’m not necessarily talking about the Kanye who waltzes into the Oval Office to demonstrate his admiration for a man who wouldn’t look out of place in either a travelling circus or a field of oranges. I’m talking about Kanye the artist, Kanye the creative. Whether as a prepubescent teen claiming that these imaginary girls certainly weren’t gold diggers, or a young adult exhausting my leg muscles up Devon Street to the beat of “Power”,  Mr West has been a constant in my life.


Whether in his music or his public opinion, censorship is the one ingredient he refuses to mix into the unique cuisine that is Kanye West. Leaving this ingredient out, in an ironic way, seems to be one of the ‘secret ingredients’ to his artistic prowess. As consumers of Kanye’s art, we’ve always been fortunate enough to have the freedom to appreciate, interpret, and extrapolate on any piece Ye produces, without any shackles binding what the artist is trying to get across. It allows for a more holistic picture of the artwork, and that old adage of ‘art for art’s sake’ to be more comprehensible.


I use the example of Kanye here to address this ever-present collision of censorship with artistic freedom and consumer choice. There is a reason why censorship exists. It allows us to ease our young ones into the relentlessly cruel world that awaits outside the front door, to avoid conflict, or, more simply—to appease those who wish to live their lives with a degree of naivety to how the world can really be.


We recently witnessed the threat of censorship in the domain of art, when a sculpture by Finnish artist Jani Leinonen depicting Jesus on the cross was placed in Israel’s Haifa Museum of Art. However, Jesus was replaced here with a crucified version of Ronald McDonald. The sculpture garnered a wealth of protest from Arab Christians, who were opposed to the gross satire of their sacred religion, and the Israeli government also agreed it was inappropriate for a state-funded museum to disrespect religious symbols, though the gallery stood their ground.


At face value, these rejections hold weight. The intertwining of a fictional, comical fast food-chain character with one of the world’s most emotive symbols isn’t going to go down like a cold one on a Friday afternoon. And I believe with artwork that delves into the volcano that is religion, a degree of caution and sensitivity is advisable.

However, was the call for censorship valid? This sculpture was part of an exhibition within the museum, “Sacred Good”, which was based on the portrayal of religion in this current age of consumerism. McDonald’s are arguably the poster child for 21st century consumerism, sadly, and the figure of Jesus Christ is like the 2000-year-old rockstar of religion. The exhibition aspired to properly illustrate how religion is viewed through the lens of consumerism, and an intertwining of the two was an impactful way to do so. Limiting this would have detracted from the value of the message this exhibition was trying to get across.


To settle tensions and avoid further possible conflict, the museum offered a careful and considered solution to church leaders and officials. That is, the positioning of a non-obtrusive sign prior to entering the exhibition, providing a forewarning that the content ahead may be offensive. This compromise allowed for the freedom of choice. But consumers should have the freedom to choose.


Now, more than ever, we live in the age of the conscious consumer. People are beautifully grasping the freedom to consume and interpret art in such a way that carries personal meaning. We relish this freedom. It allows us to take our own little slice of the world and apply value to it. This is what makes being able to connect with the work of actors, musicians, artists, philosophers, and writers so special. The forms of art they share can have individual meaning specific to each person, regardless of what the artist intended to depict. Censorship fractures individual connection.


This is where we welcome Mr West back in to the fold. We all know that Ye has a lot to say. In The College Dropout, he showed us how creativity doesn’t have to conform to what’s ‘hot right now’. Graduation was Ye’s way of telling us that his artistic capacity was not limited to one aesthetic of sound, while My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy exposed the vulnerability and emotion he let freely pour into his work. But as important as any of these ‘confessions’ is what Ye’s work symbolises for the portrayal of ‘black’ in art, and how this is so often represented as in absentia to freedom.


In 2019, we’re wondering where Kanye’s views on racism and being ‘black’ currently stand, but in the past he has certainly gripped firmly the paintbrush used to portray the link between ‘black’ and lack of freedom. Lines such as “we get racially profiled, ‘cuffed up and hosed down, pimped up and ho’d down”, ‘’Cause they don’t want nobody that’s colored out of the lines”, and “They see a black man with a white woman at the top floor they gone come to kill King Kong” all reinforce the lack of freedom so connotated with the idea of being ‘black’. It’s a sad truth of humanity’s past failings.


Censorship is tied in with this idea of in absentia, which is tied to the idea of ‘black’, which is in turn tied to the absence of freedom. Art is so often censored of its freedom because one either feels threatened by its expression, concerned about its story, or scared of its truth. Kanye said it best when he described those that are ‘black’ being ‘cuffed up and hosed down’, deprived of the right to freedom. The censorship of art can be often so wrongly used as a means of deplorably violating the rights of the creative, the rights of the consumer, and of creativity’s freedom.


I should add the caveat that I don’t agree with eradicating censorship entirely. This would be flirting with naivety. However, this idea of censorship ought to not be cradled and nurtured like a newborn infant. Infants need protection, but a balance is equally required to allow them to have the freedom to learn and to make mistakes.


Tonight, lying in bed, I will slide my headphones on in the hope of getting immersed in a world of music, devoid of the physical one around me. I will scroll through some of my favorite albums. I’ll internally converse with that voice inside my head as to which one to listen to. Predictably, I’ll land on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. As I close my eyes, my finger will press on the tab emblazoned with the title “Runaway”. That opening C chord will strike me, never ceasing to send a chill down my spine. I’ll be absorbed by this mini-narrative Kanye confesses. I’ll experience far too many emotions for a nine-minute period. And I’ll quietly thank Kanye for letting his creativity run freely.



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