Wednesday 20 April 2016
There are many shocking images in the brilliant new documentary Robert Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, made by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. You probably know many of them already. Some are just seared into our culture and no longer disturb anyone. The cover of Horses with Patti Smith was as much of a statement as her music. His celebrity pics of Eurotrash and rich collectors, or actual celebs such as Debbie Harry and Bianca whispering in Mick Jagger’s ear remain fascinating. Their beauty blasted by his light into timelessness; his naked flowers, the sex organs of plants in all their glory. As he said himself, he could perfect a bowl of carnations just as well as “a fist up someone’s ass”. Then there was the documentation of his S&M activities and his fetishisation of the black body – so many of these images remain, to use the word du jour, “problematic”. Good. His life was an artwork. He would pick up guys, do drugs, have sex and then get down to work. He would photograph them.
When you see these pictures, you wonder why – with sexual imagery everywhere all the time – these pictures linger, hanging somewhere in a dark part of the collective memory. You keep looking because he kept seeing.
In this film, we have Mapplethorpe in his own words, not the rose-tinted memories that Smith gave us in Just Kids. He is openly a man of sociopathic ambition who wants sex, fame and money, and would use anyone to get them. That countercultural drive echoed what was going on in the 1980s so much that it would become indistinguishable from mainstream culture. When people talk about the end of the New York scene, that’s what they mean.
Just as he got what he wanted, he got sick. This “ruined Cupid”, this beautiful man, we see skeletal with Aids giving his final party.
“Whether it’s an orgy or a cocktail party I know how to do it.” He certainly did. It’s hard to see this vain man visibly dying. But he made his death part of his art. His 1988 self-portrait with a skull cane remains a masterpiece. I feel sorry for those who say photography is not an art. Bowie used his death in his final work too. No hiding away.
By Jeff Robbins
Ayaan Hirsi Ali can recount in virtual slow motion the events of November 2, 2004—the day Theo Van Gogh, her collaborator on a film about abuse of women in certain Muslim societies, was assassinated. The Somali-born women’s rights advocate and writer, then a member of the Dutch Parliament, had herself received innumerable death threats for writing the film, entitled Submission. The Dutch Minister of Interior informed her of what had occurred: Mr. Van Gogh was shot eight times and left on an Amsterdam street with his throat slit and a large knife stuck in his chest. The killer used a second knife to attach a note to Mr. Van Gogh’s chest, warning of violence to Western nations and to Jews, and pronouncing a death sentence against Ms. Hirsi Ali.
The death sentence began this way: “In the name of Allah most gracious, most merciful,” and went on to proclaim that “all enemies of Islam will be destroyed.”
With an estimated 140 million girls and women throughout the world subjected to genital mutilation, with thousands murdered each year in so-called “honor killings” and untold millions forced to marry against their will, one would suppose that Ms. Hirsi Ali—the world’s preeminent critic of these practices and advocate on behalf of their victims—would be universally hailed by those who style themselves as progressives. Since Ms. Hirsi Ali’s advocacy for women has meant that she has lived under death threats for over a decade, one would be the more justified in imagining that she would be regarded as a hero by progressives everywhere. But despite a body of work as a parliamentarian, a writer and as head of a foundation that is devoted to the protection of women and has earned her recognition by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 most important people on the planet, Ms. Hirsi Ali finds herself the object of vitriol by some on the left, who cannot bear her for this reason: She is critical of Islam and what she sees in the Muslim world as not only an indulgence in violence but a practice of justifying it. Ms. Hirsi Ali says unapologetically that in Islam there exists a “culture of misogyny [that] needs to be addressed quickly and frankly, and we must not censor ourselves.”
But as Ms. Hirsi Ali works to combat those challenges, she finds herself battling the stubborn, unrelenting forces that would have her censored. The efforts to tar her with the tried-and-true epithet of “Islamophobic” come both from powerful Muslim enterprises that would like to squash her like a bug and some on the left, for whom a narrative of the Muslim world as victims and the West as victimizers is precious and comfortable. They regard Ms. Hirsi Ali as trouble. She is, after all, a Muslim-born woman who personally experienced the very abuse that she criticizes. The 46-year-old is also a superb writer, a winning speaker, inarguably courageous and telegenic to boot. She is an atheist as well. For those who wish to suppress criticism of the plight of women under Islam, she is, in short, a disaster.
Ms. Hirsi Ali warns against use of the words “extreme” and “radical” to describe as peripheral an ideology which, she argues, is in fact quite prevalent in Muslim communities around the globe, and which leads easily to violence—whether in the form of female genital mutilation or honor killings or wife-beating or suicide bombings. She views the reliance on those words as self-delusion, a soothing, self-administered palliative whose effect is to mask evidence that violence is the largely natural extension of fundamentalist values sternly dictated and widely embraced in Muslim communities—values that encourage harsh treatment of women and strict, even brutal, punishment of non-believers. Her warnings, and those of others who risk their reputations and lives to criticize Islamic institutions, are distinctly unwelcome in many Western quarters, where they are regarded as grievously politically incorrect, and where the “few-bad-apples” narrative of Islamic extremism is vastly preferred.