Art and Truth: A Reading List for AGO Creative Minds

March 27, 2018 | Bill V.

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Toronto Public Library is proud to support the Art and Truth: AGO Creative Minds at Massey Hall event that is happening  on April 4th, 2018. Moderated by CBC’s Anna Maria Tremonti, internationally celebrated writer Salman Rushdie, provocative performance artist Andrea Fraser, award-winning filmmaker Charles Officer and JUNO-nominated musician Iskwé take to the stage to debate the role of art in distinguishing right from wrong, and to consider how notions of truth are related to broader social, economic, political and intellectual forces.  


Art and Truth AGO Creative Minds at Massey Hall

IMAGE CREDITS: Salman Rushdie photo by Beowulf Sheehan, Andrea Fraser photo by Jürgen Schulzki, Charles Officer photo by Justin Morris.


Salman Rushdie needs little introduction. His 1988 novel Satanic Verses was widely criticized and he was condemned to death by Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran's religious (and political) leader. I began working at TPL in 1988 and recall the first copies coming into the library at the time — and the concern about possible protests or worse to remove it. Rushdie went into hiding for quite some time and his entire career (in fact, life) would subsequently be coloured by this work of fiction and the response to it. Thirty years later TPL still has over 70 copies of Satanic Verses and they're still in demand.

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie   From fatwa to jihad the Rushdie affair and its aftermath: "It would be absurd to think that a book can cause riots," Salman Rushdie asserted just months before the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses. But that's exactly what happened. In England, protests started just months after the book' s publication, with Muslim protestors, mainly from immigrant backgrounds, coming by the thousands from the outer suburbs of London and from England's old industrial centers--places like Bradford, Bolton, and Macclesfield--to denounce Rushdie's novel as blasphemous and to burn it. In February of 1988, the protests spread to Pakistan, where riots broke out, killing five. That same month, Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini called for Rushdie's assassination, and for the killing of anyone involved with the book' s publication.  It was this frightening chain of events, Kenan Malik argues in his enlightened personal and political account of the period, that transformed the relationship between Islam and the West: From then on, Islam was a domestic issue for residents of Europe and the United States, a matter of terror and geopolitics that was no longer geographically constrained to the Middle East and South Asia.

There's literary criticism about the book and the impact of the fatwa on him. There are also books that discuss Islam and censorship and more broadly, the issue of religious censorship. I don't want to suggest that artistic (or literary) censorship only comes from religion or from one religion alone. One need only recall the American National Endowment for the Arts and the brutal culture wars and eventual cuts to funding they faced in the 1980s and 90s. Heavy controversy swirled around institutions that dared show the photographic work of artists like Robert Mapplethorpe and his nude/gay/S&M images, or the objections of some Christians to the photography of Andres Serrano. One must also remember the Nazis' attack on the so-called Degenerate Art in the 1930s.

 Literature Suppressed on Religious Grounds (Banned Books)   Your fatwa does not apply here  untold stories from the fight against Muslim fundamentalism

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But, as we know, it's not only literature that suffers from censorship.

The museum of scandals  art that shocked the world   Eroticism & art

The artist  the censor  and the nude  a tale of morality and appropriation     The commissar vanishes the falsification of photographs and art in Stalin's Russia

 Outlaw representation censorship & homosexuality in twentieth-century American art   Art and freedom of speech

Andrea Fraser has established herself firmly in the artistic world as a performance artist. "Best known for her performance critiques of art institutions, art publications, art sponsorship, and cultural transfer — think subversive museum docent — Andrea Fraser is one of the more prominent artists to raise institutional criticism to the level of art itself."

Andrea Fraser Works 1984-2003

Museum highlights  the collected writings of Andrea Fraser    Andrea Fraser: Controversial, provocative and poignantly humorous, American artist Andrea Fraser (born 1965) is one of the most influential and pioneering figures of her generation and has been captivating a devoted audience for more than 30 years. She employs a wide range of media, including prints, photographs, installations and performances as well as texts and videos, time and again reformulating the same fundamental questions: what do we want from art, how do we view it and how does the art market distribute it? This richly illustrated catalogue presents a full overview of the artist's career for the first time. It assembles the early Four Posters (1984) as well as her famous performances such as Museum Highlights (1989), Inaugural Speech (1997) and Official Welcome (2001/03), linking them with her most recent videos. 


Interested in performance art but not all that familiar with it ... these may help?

The artist's body: Amelia Jones,among the world experts in the field, discusses performance and body art against the background of social history. She examines the breakdown of barriers between art and life, visual and sensual experience - how artists have expanded and renewed the age-old tradition of self-portraiture, moving art out of the gallery into unexpected spaces and media.Beginning with such key artists as Marcel Duchamp and Jackson Pollock, this book examines a selection of the most significant players who have used their bodies to create their art - among them, in the 1960s Carolee Scheemann, Rudolf Schwarzkogler, Yoko Ono; in the 1970s, Chris Burden, Ana Mendieta, Vito Acconci, Marina Abramovic; up to the turn of the millennium, Matthew Barney, Marc Quinn, Tracey Emin and Mona Hatoum.     Performance art  from futurism to the present

There's something about performance art (its accessibility — the use of one's self?) that is especially attractive to more marginalized communities and artists especially women like Fraser and also Mona Hatoum, Yoko Ono, Linda Mary Montano, Karen Finley and Marina Abramović.

Enough about art for the moment — what about truth?

The philosophy bible  the definitive guide to the last 3 000 years of thought: It also discusses the "big questions", such as: What is truth? What kind of person is it good to be? What do we know and how do we know it? It considers the relationship between philosophy and religion, and the problem of morality.   Better living through criticism  how to think about art  pleasure  beauty  and truth


Truth  how the many sides to every story shape our reality   935 lies  the future of truth and the decline of America's moral integrity: "Facts are and must be the coin of the realm in a democracy, for government "of the people, by the people and for the people, " requires and assumes to some extent an informed citizenry. Unfortunately, for citizens in the United States and throughout the world, distinguishing between fact and fiction has always been a formidable challenge, often with real life and death consequences. But now it is more difficult and confusing than ever. The Internet Age makes comment indistinguishable from fact, and erodes authority. It is liberating but annihilating at the same time. For those wielding power, whether in the private or the public sector, the increasingly sophisticated control of information is regarded as utterly essential to achieving success. Internal information is severely limited, including calendars, memoranda, phone logs and emails. History is sculpted by its absence. Often those in power strictly control the flow of information, corroding and corrupting its content, of course, using newspapers, radio, television and other mass means of communication to carefully consolidate their authority and cover their crimes in a thick veneer of fervent racialism or nationalism.

 Truth has always been a thorny topic. How does it work? Who decides what it is? And why is it seen as so important? In this lucid introduction to the topic, leading scholar Simon Blackburn describes the main approaches to the notion of truth and considers how these relate to different perspectives on belief, interpretation, facts, knowledge and action. He then looks at how these ideas can be applied to: - aesthetics, taste and the judgement of art; - ethics and how people decide how they should (or should not) live; - reason and rational truth and whether these may be found or learnt in conversation, agreement and disagreement; - religious belief and the ultimate cause of the cosmos. Understanding what constitutes truth has practical value in every aspect of life, and whether you are voting in an election or finding an excuse for being late, Professor Blackburn's clear and incisive account will illuminate your choice, and stimulate, inform and entertain you along the way.     Post-truth

 Win bigly  persuasion in a world where facts don't matter   The honest truth about dishonesty  how we lie to everyone---especially ourselves


Within the Canadian cultural context, the word 'truth' right now is inexorably tied to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. There has been much painful work done and healing begun around the residential schools abuses and indigenous peoples, Métis and Inuit.

Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada  Volume 1 Summary Honouring the Truth  Reconciling for the Future   A knock on the door  the essential history of residential schools from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada


And the opposite of truth is of course ... fake news.

  The smear  how shady political operatives and fake news control what you see  what you think  and how you vote   The truth matters  a citizen's guide to separating facts from lies and stopping fake news in its tracks

 Media madness Donald Trump  the press  and the war over the truth    After the Fact The Erosion of Truth and the Inevitable Rise of Donald Trump.

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Let's turn to something a bit more hopeful, the truth-telling of award-winning filmmaker, Charles Officer. He showed us a forgotten truth in his 2011 film Mighty Jerome = le grand Jerome, the not well enough known story of black Canadian athlete and Olympian, Harry Jerome

We've seen censorship in literature and art, but film is also a ripe area for control.

  Forbidden films  censorship histories of 125 motion pictures    Hollywood v. hard core  how the struggle over censorship saved the modern film industry
  Cinema civil rights  regulation  repression  and race in the classical Hollywood era   Controversial cinema the films that outraged America

Officer's 2017 Hot Docs entry Unarmed Verses (winner of the best Canadian feature) tells the story of 12-year-old girl and her family facing relocation as their Toronto Community Housing neighborhood is revitalized. Her truth comes forward through his art, and part of the power of his art is that her truth wouldn't be told without it. He's giving voice to the hidden voiceless, to the marginalized and he's also giving voice to his own reality as well.


  Toms  coons  mulattoes  mammies  and bucks an interpretive history of Blacks in American films   Movies in the age of Obama the era of post-racial and neo-racist cinema

  Reel racism  confronting Hollywood's construction of Afro-American culture   Baadasssss cinema  a bold look at 70's blaxploitation films

And lastly, a shout-out to the amazing singer Iskwé (she's of Cree/Dene and Irish heritage). She is not only a singer, but also the co-author of a graphic novel Will I See?. You can hear a podcast interview with her here: Indigenous in Music with Larry K. 

Will I see: May, a young teenage girl, traverses the city streets, finding keepsakes in different places along her journey. When May and her kookum make these keepsakes into a necklace, it opens a world of danger and fantasy. While May fights against a terrible reality, she learns that there is strength in the spirit of those that have passed. But will that strength be able to save her? A story of tragedy and beauty, Will I See illuminates the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Based on the story by Iskwé and Erin Leslie



CREATIVE MINDS is a landmark series of discussions that brings together visionary artists to discuss their work and the urgent social, political and cultural issues of our time. Four leading Canadian cultural institutions — the Art Gallery of Ontario, Massey Hall, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Banff Centre for Arts + Creativity — have come together to create this initiative with the support of Series Presenters, Jonas and Lynda Prince, whose leadership inspired the development of the project. The conversations are moderated by a leading journalist and each event opens with a musical performance, a nod to the legacy of Massey Hall. The events are streamed online and broadcast on radio by CBC, giving audiences across Canada an opportunity to hear what the artists have to say.



 Editor's note: The headline was updated on March, 28, 2018.