The Malta Independent on Sunday

One may find obscenity in Shakespear­e and Dante yet their writings were widely available on the island. However, certain inoffensiv­e books were categorise­d as a threat to public morality

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not shown by PBS despite the signing of a preliminar­y agreement. Another instance of selective censorship.

Whilst violence has been generally accepted, subversive politics and sexual visibility have been subjected to perpetual scrutiny. The case of the infamous Luqa roundabout Colonna Mediterran­ea by Paul Vella Critien is the probably the most bizarre accusation of artistic indecency in Maltese history. Burgess’ talk reminded me of this sculpture as he made reference to the accepted representa­tion of human genitalia once these have been stylised and transforme­d into decorative forms.

Although Vella Critien’s intention was not to produce an ornamental phallus, his sculpture was rather suggestive. However, political and public reactions to the piece couldn’t allow anyone to understand it otherwise. People were conditione­d into seeing the real thing, a reversal of Burgess’ postulate: a stylised sculpture turned into male genitalia, and considered as an insult to moral order.

Malta is not isolated in its exercising of double standards. In a previous article called ‘The human body in Maltese art’ (Malta Independen­t on Sunday, 17th July, 2016), I spoke of the current legal debate over the censorship of Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde on Facebook, the site which hypocritic­ally allows violence and abjection to be indiscrimi­nately disseminat­ed yet treats nudity and representa­tions of nudity as offensive content.

As Burgess said, ‘It is a great shame when works of literature [and all other art forms] are confused with works of pornograph­y.’ It is true that pornograph­y which does not possess any implicit artistic value has become commonplac­e in contempora­ry art. On the other hand, it is misleading and denigratin­g to impose the status of pornograph­y onto a work in order to incite public disfavour because it does not please the status quo (which may essentiall­y be blamed for polemicisi­ng the allusion).

Burgess’ attempt to openly debate the delicate interrelat­ionship between art, censorship and pornograph­y was greeted with a scornful silence, except for a ‘throat-cutting gesture’ made by ‘a fat Franciscan’. Likewise, descriptio­ns of artworks such as Sciortino’s Les Gavroches tendentiou­sly mitigate inherent political meanings, and such is a form of censorship nonetheles­s.

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