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Censorship in Camouflage. Two panels at The New School June 4 (with Martha Rosler, FF Alumn) and June 11, 2002

The Media Channel, the arts advocacy project of the National Coalition Against Censorship, and The File Room (1994) --a conceptual art project by Antonio Muntadas comprising an interactive archive documenting 500 years of cultural and social censorship --have organized a pair of panels called Censorship in Camouflage, to be presented by The New School. The panels are intended to initiate an in-depth inquiry into some underexplored socio-economic and political trends as they affect freedom of expression today. The results will be published in briefing papers.

In the everyday sense, censorship is defined as the overt, often-governmental suppression of speech, e.g. when public officials pressure an institution to remove an artwork from an exhibition because they disagree with the views it expresses. Yet, speech may be suppressed through far more varied, indirect and disguised means. Under the pretext that children would see it or adults might be offended, art containing nudity is excluded from publicly-funded exhibition spaces. Or to avoid discriminating against the liberationist views of a gay playwright a county entirely eliminates its arts-funding program. Or to protest the cancellation of a 2002 exhibition of photos of Afghanistan, the director and senior curator of a Florida photography museum resigned, while museum officials contend they had simply demanded that the show be re-scheduled.

Such political or ideological suppression is at least somewhat overt. In aggressively capitalist societies, it becomes increasingly clear that artists¹ voices can be effectively silenced through economic means. These forces frequently converge. Each example above has an economic component that determines whether art is produced at all. Ultimately, economic pressures join political and ideological demands ­ overt or covert ­ to produce the subtlest censor of all: the internalized voice of the self-censor.

Unfortunately, the discussion about these intertwined matters is stalemated.. It often begins and ends at the familiar argument that public funding for the arts should (somehow) stop at controversial work. Yet the playing field has changed. In a new twist, the religious right now proffers multiculturalist views about discrimination and hate speech appropriated from the left to supplement its previous morality- and values arguments. And the little-known Supreme Court decision of 1998 in the NEA vs. Finley case (the so-called NEA 4 case), allows public funders to take into account the ill-defined criterion of "decency" when making funding decisions. These two panels--focusing on case studies and encouraging audience participation--will concentrate on discussing and unraveling two difficult and little-explored issues affecting artistic expression: economic censorship and self-censorship.

Panel 1: Free Markets and Free Expression? June 4, 7 pm, New School
The arts in the U.S. are under-funded vis-à-vis those of other industrialized nations. In the realm of public funding, the debate has reached an impasse between its defenders who point to the educational and economic advantages of publicly funded art projects, and its detractors who advocate the total elimination of public funding pointing to historical examples of ideologically-manipulated, state-supported art and instead advocate private subsidies for the arts. But does a release from the constitutional funding prescriptions of government guarantee freedom for artists and institutions? Or the opposite? Does it broaden the variety of art available to diverse audiences? Does the burgeoning of corporate support for arts institutions result in the inappropriate apotheosis of corporate values in tax-supported arenas? And although the workings of art-market censorship are far subtler than the overt imprint of the censor¹s hand, how can we identify and resist them through both theory and practice?

Panel 2: Self-Censorship: The Censor Within June 11, 7 pm, New School

Censorship, wrote the noted South African novelist J.M. Coetze, "looks forward to the day when writers will censor themselves and the censor himself can retire." The most effective way of imposing censorship is to make citizens internalize the restrictive standards of those in power. We all make choices, speaking out about one issue and remaining silent about another. And, as with racism, we tend to acknowledge the universality of self-censorship, but rarely in ourselves. How can we tell when we¹ve crossed the line between civic and personal responsibility, and self-censorship? Are
there tangible symptoms? How does self-censorship differ among societies, with their varied taboos? Self-censorship is potentially ubiquitous; compelled by the marketplace, public funding and the strings attached to it, and political and ethical concerns. It differently affects artists working in particular media, as well as curators, jurors, dealers and the like who are responsible for selecting artwork and giving it public prominence.

Confirmed Panelists

June 4
RUBY LERNER is CEO/President of Creative Capital, a New York-based foundation. Prior to that, Lerner served as: Executive Director of the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers (AIVF); publisher of The Independent Film and Video Monthly; Executive Director of IMAGE Film/Video Center (Atlanta); Executive Director of Alternate Roots, a coalition of performing artists in the Southeast; and Audience Development Director at the Manhattan Theatre Club.

MARTHA ROSLER , an artist who works with images and texts in Brooklyn, New York. Most of her work concerns social issues, which are manifested at sites as various as the kitchen, the television set, the streets and the transport systems.

A member of the RTmark COLLECTIVE, a group employing innovative "mutual funding" tactics to support anti-capitalist projects.

Moderated by ROBERT ATKINS, a New York-based writer and activist. An arts
activist and former Village Voice columnist, he has written about censorship and the culture wars for more than 15 years.

June 11
ALAN SCHECHNER, an Anglo-Israeli artist living in Savannah. His work addresses a range of social issues including the Holocaust, obscenity and memorialization and his contribution to Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art generated widespread controversy.

CHARLOTTA KOTIK, a Czech-born curator living in Brooklyn. A curator at the Brooklyn Museum since 1983, she specializes in contemporary art. As the US commissioner for the 45th Venice Bienalle, she organized an exhibition of the work of Louise Bourgeois which toured internationally.

JANICE LIEBERMAN, a psychoanalyst in private practice on the Upper East Side. She is a Faculty member and Training and Supervising Analyst at IPTAR, the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research . She is the author of Body Talk: Looking and Being Looked at in Psychotherapy and co-author of The Many Faces of Deceit: Omissions, Lies and Disguise in Psychotherapy, as well as numerous articles about deception, gender and contemporary art.

LEEZA AHMADI, an Afghan-born curator living in the US. Ahmady has helped pioneer the concept of the "Parallel Gallery," the creation of a portable entity that operates along side of and in reaction to conventional arts institutions.

Moderated by SVETLANA MINTCHEVA, Ph. D., Arts Advocacy Project Coordinator
at the National Coalition Against Censorship