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
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.