Sunday, December 8, 2013

96. The Accidental Femminist - Part 2

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "95. The accidental femminist":

this was published on archinect in response to this article-image:

there is something wrong with the article and the image.

it isn't merely zaha who worked with gadafi's and qatar's regimes. everyone and their uncle worked with them. zaha is equally as "guilty" in that sense. no one bothered to collage their image with their building like penises.

did the person who make this image ask permission from zaha hadid first and get it? i assume not. in which case, i assume that they have taken advantage of her image and manipulated it to their end.

which means that, in the name of a so-called feminism (that is an exaggerated pathological direct outcome of sexism -other side of its coin-and not an actual independent feminism that respects women's/people's individual images and bodies), she's being abused by being collaged into an image that - i strongly believe- would contradict with her wishes.

the author and fabricator of the image fall into the same hole -truly no puns here- that this image is employed to counter.

furthermore, there is a strong suggestion that this is was taken from some terrorist attack/military zone - perhaps in iraq. the inversion of victims into suggested violators now being violated by a vagina is completely tasteless.

everyone in this image is being used for a single minded purpose trampling on quite a few people - inverting them for its own whimsical and perverse end.

Hi Tammuz,
Thanks for the feedback.
Sure there are other starchitects that work for dictatorial regimes, and I have been critical of them before (see note #56 & 57). I am not singling out Zaha because she is a woman. I have targeted quite a few other starchitects for criticism before.
I have criticized Bjarke Ingels for not being rigorous enough, but no one bothered to ask why I didn't criticize any female architects who were not as rigorous too?
I have criticized Peter Zumthor for being disingenuous several times, but no one bothered to ask why I didn’t criticize any disingenuous female architects or any other disingenuous starchitects for that matter.
I have criticized Wim Wenders for making a masturbatory film that basically is Zumthor pornography for Zumthor fans to jerk off to, but no one bothered to accuse me of being sexist because I was referring to his manhood as a tool for criticism.

I have posted pictures of Rem Koolhaas breast-feeding Bjarke Ingels, Joshua Prince (REX), Foreign Office Architects and a bunch of his other prodigies, but no one bothered to say "if it was a female starchitect they wouldn’t have depicted her body in such a perverse way to make a point. It’s just because he is a man!"

I am pretty sure that neither Rem, nor Bjarke nor any of the other architects who were featured in that image would approve of it, but again no one asked if Rem was being abused or exploited when his image was used in that way?
Besides giving evidence that I have a very outlandish sense of humor, do you see where I am going with this?
I am not singling her out for this type of criticism because she is a woman. I am singling her out because she is a starchitect with very low moral bearings. Zaha and her allies have a habit of calling every male criticism of her sexist and every female criticism of her jealousy; a quixotic attempt to make herself inscrutable. It has never stopped me before and it’s not going to stop me now.
The intention with the image was to illustrate an alternate universe where Zaha is actually a super action heroine standing up for the repressed women in Qatar. She is depicted as a poised, powerful woman in control. She is smoking a cigar which she has in one had as if to celebrate a victory. In the other had she is holding up the middle finger, like a driver who has successfully cut off an opponent in a traffic dispute and leaving them in the dust. The stadium (looking like a giant steel vagina) is re-imagined not so much as an accidental Freudian hiccup to be ashamed of, but as an intentional powerful act of defiance and symbol of female prowess and strength. It is not accidental that the image chosen for Zaha's face has an expression of conceit and composure that stands in stark contrast to the horror on the faces of the crowd below. In a way, I was channeling Bruce Willis' expression in the Die Hard movie, that moment right after saying "yippie-kye-yae mother fucker!"

The little men in the street below her represent the strictly male power class of Qatar led by the Emir; they stand behind the oppressive system of de-facto slavery and mass female imprisonment. Behind them in the background stands "the cock crammed" skyline - tall sky skyscrapers resembling a forest of male phalluses. This is testament to the highly patriarchal society in which women make up only 1/4 of the population and are diminished in power. If they feel it is necessary to incarcerate and suppress women in their society in such a radical way, one can only conclude that they are afraid of them. It is no wonder then that any building that resembles a female vagina would be a frightening proposition - Super action heroine Zaha has just delivered  them their worst nightmare. So yes you are right, I wanted to invoke an image of what would be terror for such a society: A powerful woman that can stand up to or at least outwit them. That was the main point!
However there is another layer of meaning and intension to this image of terror. If you remember the days leading up to the fall of the Quadafi regime that Zaha worked for, you might recall the violent images of civilians and militia in the streets being attacked by her former employer's solders. As I mentioned Zaha was hired as part of the regime's propaganda wing in an elaborate plan to give the regime an air of sophistication that would help mask the atrocities that he was committing.

THE REALITY: The images in the video above shows the reality of Quadafi's Lybia and the terror he inflicted on the people there.

THE MASK: People's Conference Hall  (above) in Tripoli designed by starchitect, Zaha Hadid, but was 'put on hold' causing her firm to lay off many of its employees. The project was clearly an attempt by Gaddafi to rebrand his image and fumigate the stench of Lockerbie and other adventures of his dictatorship

With my image I also wanted to place the mask (Zaha Hadid and her work) and the reality behind the mask (the image of violence and terror) together on the same image as a way for my audience to see both the mask and the reality in one image.  This was the secondary point.

The third point was to create an image that was outrageous, humorous and offensive as possible to draw attention and spark debate. I wanted to shake my audience from their complacency of looking at starchitects who willingly participate in embellishing violent regimes as a trivial matter. By getting my audience emotionally engaged by either laughing or being disturbed by it, my hopes are that they will remember it and help to create a culture where this kind of behavior is no longer acceptable.  

Some say it is tasteless. Sure, I expected that response. What is tasteless? That varies along cultural, religious, and personal value lines. In some societies complete nudity is normal and acceptable; for them no part of the human body is taboo or can be seen as tasteless and that includes both the male and female genitalia. For some religions any flesh visible above the knee of a woman is indecent, others find it tasteless for a woman to show her ankles or require that the woman is covered so that only the eyes are visible.  So no matter what I do, someone will consider it tasteless by some standards. Therefore, you may have noticed that trying not to offend anyone isn't anywhere on my list of intentions above.  
To answer some of your specific concerns though; Why choose the vagina and not some other body part, or something else as a mode of criticism? Well you my have to ask Jon Stewart, or whoever started the Internet meme. By the time I saw that stadium it was already branded as a vagina. All that was left for me to do was to contextualize it, which i did - both visually with the image and politically with the accompanying article.

As for the alleged victims, No! The collage is not taken from images of actual terror victims; they are from a street protest - demonstrators running from tear gas thrown by police, another is of Arabic men running away at the start of a camel race in Rash al Khaimah, and the third (not sure) probably an Arab comedy skit featuring men screaming.  I commend you though for at least thinking about them. Most of the complaints I get condemns the tasteless victimization/exploitation of Zaha without any mention of the thousands of women or slaves who are victims of the system she works for.
In short, I belive you (as well as others) have misinterpreted my intention and inflated it with some incorrect assumptions. As you mentioned, the image comes with other messages. You interpreted it as a tasteless exploitation of Zaha and victims of terrorism that tramples on people for my own whimsical and perverse end. To this I say, that this is part of what makes art/comedy so interesting and wonderful: Because it can be interpreted in so many different ways. Like a Rorschach test, a psychoanalyst may put an ink splash in front of you and you will see one thing and I will see another. In these scenarios, the meanings we find in the images are more a measure of us and our world view than the actual image itself. 
It draws to mind the case when former NY mayor Rudolph Giuliani threatened to withdraw funding from the Brooklyn museum because it showed the artist Chris Ofili’s painting of the Holy Virgin Mary that he didn’t like. Ofili's painting depicted the Virgin Mary with dark skin, African features, and was collaged with close-ups of female genitalia cut out from pornographic magazines and real elephant dung.  Ofili's intention was to use the dung and the vagina images as symbols of fertility. Giuliani saw it differently. He thought it was offensive to Catholics and famously exclaimed, "There’s nothing in the First Amendment that supports horrible and disgusting projects!” Ironically though, it was Hillary Clinton who came to Ofili's defense arguing the freedom of expression and cultural tolerance. This is the nature of symbols in art. It can provoke a conversation about the meanings we extract from things between two strangers who know nothing about each other than the values we bring to an image.

All the best,
Conrad Newel
Liberating Minds Since August 2007



Anonymous said...

Thank you for your reply, architect journal. I hope you also publish the below (i will chop it up in parts)

Part 1
Some statements of yours:
I am not singling out Zaha because she is a woman. I have targeted quite a few other starchitects for criticism before.
… but no one bothered to ask why I didn’t criticize any disingenuous female architects
…but no one bothered to ask why I didn't criticize any female architects who were not as rigorous too?
…but no one bothered to say "if it was a female starchitect they wouldn’t have depicted her body in such a perverse way to make a point. It’s just because he is a man!"
That you singled her out is irrelevant. That you chose men before and not women is irrelevant (to me). That you didn’t replace men with women is irrelevant to me. That you choose to focus on a man-architect masturbates and not a woman is irrelevant to me. I only noticed this one Zaha collage of yours posted on Archinect and I didn’t have an idea of your previous work beforehand. So, really, the statements you make (cited above) are besides-the-point.

To begin with, you singled out the womanhood (something that in my mind should be her ownership) in her and targeted/used her through it. However, you played with the architect-boys on very different terms. Rem Koolhaas does not really have the number of exaggerated boobs you show and none of the architect-babies shown are in reality infantile. The message pertains really solely to their standing within the profession and cult of architecture and not to their person or bodies. On the other hand, Zaha Hadid is a woman and has ‘one of her own’ already. You choose to take the stadium project that has been compared to a vagina and force it on her image, placing her in a monstrously sexual position. The time that you take a woman as a subject, you immediately revert to a sexual cliché – the domineering man-eating woman. The message here that strikes one first is not read metaphorically – it is read pornographically ie sexually self-referential even if this is but the intermediate bridge to your ultimate message. In other words, the message stalls at the image of the now deformed body of Zaha Hadid hunting down men. Sorry but that is far more of a rude, misogynistic and personal caricaturing of her than in the Rem caricature. You deform Rem’s body to communicate a message that has nothing to do with his body; his caricatured body is ultimately analogical communicating a message situated from away from the literalism of the image. Not so with Zaha; her personal womanhood overlaps with your ultimate message and that obscures your political message and turns it within itself, trapped in horror-porno solipsism.

Anonymous said...

Part 2

So, yes, I am concerned with this excess – or framework- of meaning explained above (hopefully clearly) that carries with it the misogyny that – I gather- has been noticed, one way or the other, by others. You yourself mention your
This is testament to the highly patriarchal society in which women make up only 1/4 of the population and are diminished in power. If they feel it is necessary to incarcerate and suppress women in their society in such a radical way, one can only conclude that they are afraid of them.

Now, in terms of women in Qatar and generally GCC, I agree that they don’t have equal rights and so on. But, I have a strong feeling – as a person who originates from the so called Middle East area and who has lived in a few GCC countries, from the strictest of the lot to the most liberal- that your perception on the society and the issue of woman rights is warped, clichéd and hyped to the point where it would be distasteful to men and women alike in the region. (In fact, and simply as a besides-the-point remark on my part: if you cared at all about arab women’s and men’s sensibilities, you would not be showing (albeit fake) their genitals or in compromising situations). Qatar and the Emirates –for instance- have actually made quite significant strides in terms of women’s access to the workforce and suchlike. Saudi Arabia, however, has not and hoards of problems that that country has. Bahrain’s main problem is now sectarian – much more so than in relation to women-rights front. In fact, it might be better to be a sunni Bahraini woman now than a Shiite Bahraini man.

Yes, there are problems and yes, I believe that change must be encouraged. But not in such a manner. Why do all the men in your collage deserve to be eaten? What is this vitriolic generalization? In reality, not only is the image misogynistic in sexist terms, it is also so in racist terms. Your second message is: All these Qatari(arab) men are going to be (therefore deserve to be) eaten because they imprison their women counterparts.

You prove to have a very non-contextual, external point of view on the topic. This is not criticism; you are merely balking at the imagined generalized myth and coming up with something that expresses antipathy on the basis of ignorance. Can you imagine, for instance, that there are indeed many many many Qatari women (and I know quite a representative few) who are very happy and content in their lives in Qatar? Many of them very much like being housewives. Others are out, making great progress in their work environment. Let them speak for themselves – do no usurp them as well in your representations.

As for Gadafi. When I said that many did business with him – I did not mean architects. Insignificant. I meant politicians and leaders– probably yours as well. The same people who later turned on him because they saw it was good to go and topple him in Libya – not out of concern with the people there who had been living under Gadafi – but to gain certain privileges in Libya and elsewhere by way of his removal. What happened to –what is happening now to Libya is tragic, far more tragic than the situation under Gadafi. You have no clue whatsoever about the US/NATO overt and covert operations in the country and you have no clue about the context. You are fed biased media bytes and on the basis of that you build up a collaged effigy of false-knowledge/ignorance. Please do yourself a favour and watch this:

Anonymous said...

Part 3
In actual fact, if you want to address the head of the serpent, the one that keeps the countries in the middle east in the dark ages, encouraged religious fundamentalism and decreases the likelihood of women gaining their rights – look to the colonialist powers, to the great puppeteers. Gadafi was generally bad to all his people – but he was equally bad to women. He was not a religious fundamentalist. The encouragement of fundamentalism on the part of US and NATO to counter any independent, liberal and progressive movements in the middle east is far far more detrimental than Gadafi. Go target the snake’s head, instead of reverting to racist (and sexist) clichés and picking out the easy targets…if you dare.

All the best and apologies if I didn’t spend enough time editing the above. Please accept this in the spirit of constructive criticism.

Conrad Newel said...

Hi Tammuz,

Thanks for replying again. My name is Conrad Newel.

When you made the statements:

"it isn't merely zaha who worked with gadafi's and qatar's regimes. everyone and their uncle worked with them" or that,
"no one bothered to collage their image with their building like penises."

I took it as an accusation that I was unfairly singling out Zaha, or that I was being sexist because I did not do the same to male architects, or something to that effect. So when I made that list of criticism of other male architects, it was merely to give evidence to address those concerns.

That it is besides the point or whether I was or was not singling out Zaha leaves me puzzled. What then did you mean by those statements? Am I missing something?

Well, whatever the reason, I am glad it is besides the point. Then we can talk about more meaningful things.

Anyway, your explanation of your values and why/how you came to the interpretations you did about my work brings us back to what I said at the conclusion of my reply: the meanings we find in the images are more a measure of us and our world view than the actual image itself.

In regards to the video, I would like to thank you for sharing it. I will also say that since I don't know you or have never met you before, I don't propose to know how much you know or don't know about any subject. That would be a bit presumptuous, wouldn't it?

Likewise, I would imagine that (unless you work for the NSA) you have no idea about what I do or do not have a clue about either.

So to admonish me about my ignorance about the middle east would also be a bit presumptuous wouldn't it?

Like I also said, art can provoke a conversation about the meanings we extract from things between two strangers who know nothing about each other than the values we bring to an image.



Anonymous said...

I don't know how I got here (lost in the internet again) but I'm glad I did. I'd like to comment not on Hadid but on the interesting exchange between Conrad and Tammuz.

Conrad, I agree with almost all of your points.

Tammuz, I agree with most of your points.

How is this possible to agree with both? Because, as Conrad noted, the disagreement here is mainly one of perspective. As an American who's lived in the Middle East and been married for ten years to a Middle Eastern woman, I can begin to understand Tammuz' feelings on this topic. And I very much appreciated reading his well written thoughts.

Conrad was quite succinct in explaining the benefits we Westerners generally find in contentious sorts of arguments so I won't try to restate the case. From my experience, the culture of public debate is far more muted in the Middle East. In fact, in my experience only, I've never met a person from the Middle East who thought that totally unfettered free speech was even desirable. I've had many opportunities to discuss the subject with many very intelligent and well educated individuals, particularly during the time when some idiot put that ridiculous 'movie' on youtube a few years ago. Even though I'm a fairly politically astute American, I was often told by people who had never been to America that when these offensive things are allowed to be published it's because the government approves. My arguments to the contrary were not believed--and I also used the dung/Virgin Mary episode as evidence--to no avail.

What people in the Middle East and many other parts of the world don't understand when they become aware of something particularly repugnant being said in America is that in an environment of free speech you are constantly forced to endure truly worthless opinions. We think it's a good thing because it allows us to challenge those opinions. But it never ends. There's always a background of disagreeable speech that one encounters. It can't be escaped. So we become rather blase about it and shrug our shoulders most of the time.

In the Middle East, and in much of the rest of the world, public speech is seen as far more consequential. Certainly people in the Middle East discuss, and argue about, politics as much as anywhere else in the world. It's when this discussion enters the public sphere that the muting occurs. New media like Al Jazeera and the internet have begun expanding the limits of the public sphere of debate and still meet a lot of resistance.

In short, I agree with Tammuz' perspective both because it's perfectly valid and I've glimpsed where it comes from. It's fine to opine about another culture but no matter how much knowledge and experience one has, it's another matter entirely when the subject is one's own culture, particularly when that culture is suffering the growing pains of history in such palpable fashion as has been occurring in the Middle East. People from the outside often lose sight of the fact that in addition to oppression and violence there's also a lot of contentment and happiness. That's a perspective that rarely get's mentioned--and yet why would it? Conrad wants to debate freely. I think perhaps Tammuz is both too close to the subject for the kind of detachment Conrad is asking for and also doesn't quite agree with the rules of debate that Conrad is using to guide the argument. The result is that the two are to some extent talking past one another.

I only hope I've added something worthwhile to this discussion with my meandering thoughts.

Conrad Newel said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for contributing to the discussion, it was well worthwhile. That nuance about public and private criticism was very insightful. To me it points to a vast substructure of nuanced unspoken rules and taboos that every culture has.

As I have also learned from Tammuz, there are separate rules for each gender when it comes to the use of the body as subject matter in art.

For example, anytime you take a woman as a subject, you immediately revert to a sexual cliché.
So apparently it is okay (or not so bad) to exaggerate the size and amount of breasts on a man in a depiction, because it does not correspond with reality.
Tammuz argues:
“Rem Koolhaas does not really have the number of exaggerated boobs you show and none of the architect-babies shown are in reality infantile.”
However to exaggerate a woman to King Kong size proportions and representing her vagina as a giant stadium IS much closer to reality, while extra nipples on a man is not?
By these standards the works of Picasso, Matisse, Georgia O’Keeffe and all of western art for that matter are sexual clichés – a proposition that I would not find absurd by the way, but for different reasons.

From my perspective, any differences in treatment between the sexes as far as separate rules are sexist.

Besides such particular disagreements, I also agree with much of what Tammuz has to say as well. How is that possible?

Firstly, we are both feminists and are on the same side of the issue. Tammuz disagrees with my methods - that is abundantly clear.

Never the less, Tammuz's interpretation of the image is that the vagina stadium is trying to eat the men in the street (among other things) and is therefore misogynist. Although (as I made explicitly clear) that was not my intention, I DO also agree that Tammuz's interpretation of it IS a valid one and I accept it as such. So there is another point of agreement.

However, I also think that he/she is either too offended by the image to apprehend what I am saying, believes that I am insincere in my arguments, too close to the subject to have a detached conversation (as you suggested) or something else. Whatever the case, Tammuz appears to have gotten it fixed in the head that I am an arrogant, ill-informed misogynist and insists on addressing me as such.

Secondly, Tammuz often makes assumptions about me which are sometimes right and mostly wrong.

He/she creates a straw-man and defends him as though he is being attacked by me when this is not the case.

Take this example, he/she asserts that there are many Qatari women who are very happy and content with life there and defends them.

I have never made any arguments attacking Quarter’s women or made any claims that they are unhappy as housewives or said that they were unprogressive. In fact, if he/she had read through my first post, they would have seen that I made the statement "When it comes to women rights, Qatar boasts one of the best among Arab countries".

Qatari nationals (both men and women) are an elite and privileged minority in that country. I went on to explain that it was the low paid migrant workers - mostly women - who constitute the ghastly female prison population there. So when I refer to the imprisoned women of Qatar, I was mostly referring to the migrant woman prisoners. Perhaps, I should not have assumed that Tammuz had read the accompanying text in the first article.

So what Tammuz does then, is to assume that I was referring to the women who are Qatari nationals and further assumes that I am ignorant of the situation there. Based on these ill-founded assumptions, he/she further argues that my opinion is based on antipathy and ignorance, then goes on to give me an unnecessary lesson on Middle Eastern affairs.

Tammuz again assumes incorrectly that I get my news about the world from television and therefore have no clue whatsoever about Libya and the implications of foreign involvement there (pre and post Gaddafi).

Conrad Newel said...

He/She tells me that Gaddafi was generally bad to all his people – but he was equally bad to women and that he was not a religious fundamentalist.
Who knew? – Talk about stating the obvious.
Seriously though, when he/she makes statement like these, you would think that I was arguing the opposite. So it’s not hard to see why both you and I agree with much of the assertions Tammuz are making.

As far as his/her direct criticism of the work - which I find much more interesting and insightful; he/she states that the image of Zaha is far more of a rude and personal caricaturing of her than in the Rem caricature. In this case, I do agree with Tammuz – I think it was a much more severe critique of Zaha than of Rem. However, the point of showing the Rem image and other examples was not to prove that they were the same as the Zaha image, but to address concerns that I was unfairly singling her out for this kind of criticism.

I don’t aim to make all my critique of equal tone and severity: Unfortunately my creative process does not work that way. I do what I think is appropriate to the issue at the time and let the chips fall where they may - so to speak.

Tammuz also, points to colonialist powers as the puppeteers behind much of the problems in the Middle East. He/She goes on to challenge me to “Go target the snake’s head, instead of reverting to racist (and sexist) clichés and picking out the easy targets…if you dare.”

This is a classic circular-diversion-of-accountability. I should not blame Zaha, blame the colonial governments, if I go to and criticize the colonial governments they can (by using the same logic) then say “don’t blame me, blame the corporations”, if I go to the corporations they can then say “don’t blame me, blame our shareholders*” and so on and so on. In the end no one can be held accountable.

While many first world governments bear much of the responsibility in destabilizing such nations, they do not act alone. They have local accomplices, and they are many. If we go by Tammuz’s logic, then we don’t prosecute the Albert Speers of the world, the Nuremberg Trials would be unnecessary and we might as well do away with the International Court of Justice in The Hague for that matter, because there is always a greater power that is the head of the snake.

Besides this, my blog deals with issues of Starchitecture, so while I may have my opinions about politics, in this blog, I limit them to only those dealing with starchitecture. There are many other blogs out there that deals with Global Politics.

The most profound critique I found was where Tammuz stated that the message that strikes one first is not the metaphor, but rather of something pornographic or misogynistic. Therefore, for him/her it is impossible to get beyond the literalism of the image. They are stuck at the metaphor and cannot get to the intended message.

This I can totally understand, I have experienced this quite a lot with many works in both art and architecture. In these cases, I say that they were not good art work in my view, since it does not work for me. However, “in my view” being the operative phrase here, I would not dare declare it a bad art work in-and-of-itself just because it does not work for me. That would be egocentric.

As I said, I was trying to be outrageous and humorous to draw attention to the message. I would expect, quite a lot of people would have those reactions at first, but I also expected that most would get past it, see the intention (especially after reading the article) and discuss the ramifications of starchitects working for dictators as we are doing here now, though tangentially. For the most part, the response was overwhelmingly positive – the image and the accompanying article was one of the most shared on our Facebook page (51 and counting). Incidentally, it was very popular with Middle-Eastern countries notably Egypt, Syria and the UAE. The success here is not measured just by the number of shares, but by the quality of discussions. With a few exceptions, everyone got the point.