Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Humanist Transhumanist - Is it Racist to Critique Religion?
Is it Racist to Critique Religion?
Humanist Transhumanist the exhibition was declared racist by Guildford Lane Gallery Director Robert Cripps for doing so.

This 2009 show-case exhibition of artworks with accompanying Catalogue - Manifesto produced by myself and Demetrios Vakras was intended to take advantage of a Dali Exhibition held at the same time at the National Gallery of Victoria. Our further intention was to counter the 'modern' surreal-lite interpretation and presentation of surrealism. With such a focus upon Surrealism in our home city it represented a one time opportunity to take advantage of enthusiasm for the genre and generate further interest in living, local artists of the surreal and fantastic.

Months in planning, countless hours at the easel and computer producing the works, publication and promotional material all culminated in high costs financially and it all come to naught.

Our presentation and execution was characteristically professional, on time, content rich and efficiently delivered for viewing.

Robert Cripps, the Director of Guildford Lane Gallery created a scene towards the end of the opening night event, publicly declaring us and our exhibition racist and demanded we leave his gallery. We had another encounter like this when we returned to attempt to properly document our show and examine the posting of disclaimer notices throughout and leading into our exhibition. He rushed towards us  demanding we leave, yelling at us the exhibition was racist and that Demetrios intimidated him (this was new). We offered to remove it for a refund and re-stated our right to attend our show in the hired space during gallery hours and according to the contractual agreement. I attempted to ascertain from him what was racist whilst Demetrios backed away (to avoid appearing "intimidating"). Turns out any critical reference to the religion of Islam was the racist part though he brandished the full show incomprehensible and vaguely with a sweep of his arm all of it racist. He had fixated though on the criticism of Islam from what we could ascertain. Other religions were similarly critiqued within the content and context of the show but this was not racist, this was okay because, according to him, those religions deserve it. So it is okay to critique Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Zoastrianism.

[We left, hounded by him to do so, or he'd call the police.
As the gallery contract instructs if disputes arise the dispute must be raised, communicated and a process followed to produce a mutually agreed resolution. We had attempted to raise our objections in person, this failed so we outlined our objections to his behaviour towards us and to his continual public misrepresentation of our art and character by email. He skirted around our complaints in a reply email, which appears to be drafted by someone else, making the further written claim that both he and his staff were uncomfortable in our presence and that we were to only attend the gallery when he was there and to always make prior arrangement to do so. This libel by him and a further unilateral change to the contract affected our accessing our own exhibition. We could only have attended again if together, not as individuals, as we could not trust what he might do, or might claim we did do, if we each went in alone. We had to forewarn the gallery as he would have to be there whilst we were. Which made us attending at all untenable.]

Our exhibition was from that point on abandoned, unmanaged, misrepresented by his posted disclaimers and his public declarations it was racist. For all we know potentially an ongoing slander of us was conducted in our absence. Not one of his volunteers or staff came forward to correct what he claimed, that he and they were all intimidated and made "uncomfortable" by our art and presence. We gave them opportunity to do so and the opportunity to do so remains available to them. Since none yet have had anything to say we have to assume therefore they were/are in agreement with Cripps claims made on their behalf. 

[For writing about our experience we are being sued and chased around the internet in his attempts to use whatever means and legal threats he can to have us hound us off the WWW. The truth may hurt but it remains what it is - some prefer to be defined by the truth whilst others prefer to suppress or ignore it because of what it can expose in us.]

So where has this "populist"and in some cases media supported moratorium on any criticism of Islam come from? It does seem to be the case that generally you are accepted to be a racist if you critique Islam.

Australia, purportedly, is a secular democracy as enshrined within The Australian Constitution Act (Chapter V. The States. 116.) Australia can be popularly defined in a number of other ways in addition, which have little to do with politics or religion; beer, sport and beach themes come immediately to mind. Australians (some or most?) like to foster this image and take pride in being considered as characteristically laid-back and even laconic. Citizens may openly critique the government and social systems which includes religions but the permission to do so is awarded conditionally. Laws regarding complaint or dissent limit our ability to publicly complain without fear of litigation, legal persecution and authoritarian intervention. In our adventures with Mr Cripps we've suffered all three in various forms and ultimately for exercising our right to critique all religions which includes Islam. When viewed with a critical eye this not only exposes the sensitivities of Islam to criticism of it but how successfully it has been transmitted that Islam is exempted. As those who do critique it are all labelled racist. That there are serious contradictions in this logic are obvious. Obvious or not it remains the case a tipping point has been reached with regard to public opinion on this matter. If you speak to anyone regarding a criticism of Islam they will clam up, prefer not to discuss it, become faintly horrified or outright state "isn't that racist?" or something to that effect. Why is it racist? The conclusion by many, that it is somehow racist, is not one arrived at by reason but more by absorption. It is a repetitiously received and accepted absorption through the media, through political and religious commentary and opinion, through popular commentators, through a desire to counter negative attitudes (fair or unfair ones), all coloured and shadowed by the not so vague sense of it all being a taboo subject.

Publicly others have already suffered the racism charge and other worse stigma, they are accused of having far-right political leanings and a racist agenda and/or have suffered in some cases much worse persecutions.

In a press-release by Maryam Namazi who opened the 2011 One Law For All's "Passion for Freedom" exhibition she mentions us amongst other artist and free thinkers fighting a much harder battle than we could ever imagine. We hold these people in high esteem and send them our respectful support. They are surviving much worse treatment than we are.

As a citizen of a free secular democracy I am compelled to offer more than a laconic, laid-back acceptance of what prevails on popular winds. Tolerance does not require we decline to critique a human rights abuse or systemic failing because it emanates from a particular religion, religious practice, culture or politic. It does follow that we as citizens and artists must continue to defend human rights even when we are in trouble for doing so and are persecuted for it.


Anonymous said...

As a volunteer who was present during this situation, I find it upsetting that you continue to label myself and others in my situation as silent witness and therefore 'no better' than Cripps. In no way was i ever in line with his ideas, lack of professionalism, or breach in conduct. I may have been young, and altruistic in regard to my opportunities at Guildford Lane, but I promptly left the Gallery shortly after this dispute.

In terms of having ample opportunity to voice my concerns, I do not think that is so.
When i left Guildford Lane I shut myself off from anything related to the Gallery out of pure frustration (which does not excuse it) and therefore had no knowledge of what was happening. Yet i should not have to justify myself for my silence during the event (it was not my fight nor at that point did he mention volunteers as far as i am aware. He did many times afterwards, for that i am aware. I am sure he masqueraded "the benefits and security of his volunteers" to disguise is inherent dislike for you. Perhaps this was because you both stood up to his creepy nature, aggressive being and horrible (and often sexist) temperament he had toward his employees/volunteers and clients. Knowing this now and acknowledging my mistake in working for such a man after the fact would in your eyes not save me morally from my "silence" during the event. I am sure you will continue to think of me as weak and reply with a heavy righteous hand.

I can say that during the first outcry of Cripps toward your art work (in his belief that it breached it's contract due to misleading content) - i did voice my opinion to you. I did not misunderstand your art (though I admit I struggled to gain insight in regards to connection between the style choice and the religious content /commentary). Nor did i think it was racist, offending or intimidating. I did not like it but that is a personal dislike of surrealist art.

I can also say that no other volunteer was in a position to stop Cripps from treating you the way he did in fact hardly anyone was told outside of the few at the opening of the situation only that it had turned sour and to inform him of your arrival at any point during the term of your Gallery hire. So i have to say they really cannot be accountable for things they do not know. I do not want to speculate, but my suspicions are that those who were present were most likely too frightened to do anything, or just confused by the outburst. I do not and will never excuse Cripps behaviour, it was irrational and unjust. I only wish to stand for the volunteers like myself who were young and mislead by a Gallery which we all hoped would be a lucky break into the industry. All it has done is give me a headache.

Robert Cripps is deserving of your VCAT application - however exaggerated the damage award.
I also find it aggravating that Cripps would sue you for defamation. Your many websites are indeed aggressive in nature but as they are your opinion and in fact truthful - I am not sure where the defaming occurs. It really seems to be a 'my word against yours' case. Your websites do discredit him but only through a situation you were directly involved in. It is truth, and i am sure if Cripps is putting forward himself as a just/good character it will be logically and quickly rebuffed. Anyway, as i am not schooled on defamation law in Australia or the libel against interent publishing i will not comment more on this.

I wish you all the best with the fight.
I will probably regret writing this, but i needed to. As i realise that you need to take action against Cripps for his actions.

LeeAnneArt on twitter @leeanneart said...

Dear Anonymous,

Firstly I want to thank you for your contact and I do think you are brave to do so.

Confidentiality: If you do come forward we would not identify you. We have other witnesses including a former gallery manager who worked at GLG though not at the time of our show. These others have privately contacted us and their identities remain private. Your statement as someone actually present at one of the incidents in question is of great importance.

If you said anything in our defence at the time we are both unaware of it and thank you that you did. We'd remember if you said anything in front of us. I remember every detail of his words, actions and insults. Not one person there at the time said a peep in our defence, that we know of, at least not in our presence. Hence the opinions we hold are because then, and until now, no one who witnessed it came to our defence. If tables were turned I would have stepped in to defend another is my point. If what I write comes across as harsh I'd like to point out that this is from the context of what I and my art strives to achieve - which has never been to be a by-stander to the problems of others. I understand that as a young person starting out in the industry that you and others would have concerns and feel the need to protect yourself, but I believe that all of us have to be a little stronger and not remain a bystander. Doing the right thing was all we ever expected of any one who was there to witness the events we experienced. Critically for us these are experiences from which we have never recovered and by this I am not referencing emotions. It seems events have or do remain a difficult memory for others as well. However, we're living with more than just negative memories. People remaining silent is unfortunately part of the reason for this.

Others who have relayed their experiences and who have come forward are protected. Any witness evidence is protected. Arts Law could verify this for you.

If you wish to do so, please contact me directly at and we can continue privately. If you do not wish to contact me directly I urge you to please contact our very lovely solicitor (there will be no cost to you other than a phone call - we'll get that bill :) ) Romani Benjamin, of Media Arts Lawyers ph: 9348 9537 ext. #3. (I don't want to post her mobile number online so if you get her voicemail leave her a message and she'll return your call) Romani will clarify concerns and questions and hopefully allay any fears. As long as you do remain anonymous and you do not make any further contact, then what you have relayed anonymously can simply be dismissed and claimed to have been staged by myself or Demetrios, as something we concocted for our own benefit. It would therefore just help Cripps in the end.

The truth is never something one should have cause to regret. I'm glad you wrote this.

I hope you do make contact (privately) and I wish you well.

with regards,
Lee-Anne Raymond

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your reply. I am not sure how much I can help as it was a long time ago, but i intend to get in contact with your lawyer.

LeeAnneArt on twitter @leeanneart said...

Today is a good day.
You may not realise but by your simply offering to do so means everything to us.
with regards,

About Leeanneart

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Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
We are first and foremost human with a responsibility to the humanity within us and not to any faith, political, apolitical, social or societal group, union or faction. We are responsible for our own reputation, and for what deeds we do and what achievements or otherwise in life we enjoy. The rest is nonsense.