Covering Cinema From All Across The African Diaspora

Freedom Of Speech - Just Watch What You Say

I don't know how the hell I missed this stupefying piece of news, given how much web surfing and reading I do daily; and also the fact that the incident took place right here, in my own backyard! I don't recall any local news stations carrying it, although that's partly my fault, because I don't watch much local television. Unless there was some covert intent to cover it all up... I don't know. And no one in my immediate circle of friends, also New Yorkers, mentioned nor talked about any of it!

Maybe I'm just too sensitive, and it's ultimately no big deal, and I shouldn't be shocked by any of this, since it's just business as usual in America (cue the Star-Bangled Banner).

A friend in Kuwait, of all places, sent me an email tonight, expressing her outrage at the news (she'd only just found out about it), cluing me in!

The story was posted on the New York Times weblog, which baffles me even more, because I read the New York Times online almost everyday, so I have no idea how I missed this!

It's 2 weeks old, but I thought I'd share anyway, for any others who may have missed it as well.

I just realized that this took place on the day Barack sealed the democratic party nomination, so it's possible that all the excitement surrounding that triumph silenced this almost completely.

Take a look at the 3 images below first, and then follow the link at the bottom to read the accompanying article, and see even more "interesting" pictures. Click each one for an enlarged (pun intended) view:

The story goes from the NY Times blog... June 4th 2008 - This morning, a Boston-born performance artist, Yazmany Arboleda, tried to set up a provocative art exhibition in a vacant storefront on West 40th Street in Midtown Manhattan with the title, “The Assassination of Hillary Clinton/The Assassination of Barack Obama,” in neatly stenciled letters on the plate glass windows at street level.

By 9:30 a.m., New York City police detectives and Secret Service agents had shut down the exhibition, and building workers had quickly covered over the inflammatory title with large sheets of brown paper and blue masking tape. The gallery is across the street from the southern entrance to The New York Times building.

See the rest of the story HERE.

The artist claims that he has the right to express himself artistically, under the Constitution, and is being censorsed, unlawfully. Once again, the somewhat ambiguous concept known as freedom of expression is challenged! How far is too far? Where does the demarcation lie?


  1. Thordaddy said...

    How many more artists are going to attempt to shock and dismay and then play coy when others are shocked and dismayed?

    If this is art then how would we know? Is art now defined by its attempt to be censored?

  2. albertine said...

    I was just about to catch up on your entries when this caught my attention immediately!

    Hmmm... OK! I see! Censorship, huh?

    I need to think about this one a little longer. It's 1:45AM and my brain wasn't ready for this kind of thing.

  3. Undercover Black Man said...

    Thordaddy... my mainest man! I love that you be reading other black bloggers.

  4. Anonymous said...

    This is b.s. it's offensive, not freedom of speech. When another persons life is possibly being put in danger, it’s no longer freedom of speech. i dont know why some people refuse to understand that.

  5. The Obenson Report said...

    @ thordaddy - blame it on capitalism.

    @ albertine - Looking forward to your eventual comments.

    @ Undercover - thanks for stopping by.

    @ anonymous - You know what they say, one man's trash is another man's treasure.

  6. Qadree said...

    We had a similar incident here in Chicago years ago after Mayor Harold Washington died. A white artist at the Art Institute made a painting of Washington that depicted him wearing womens underwear. The artist claimed he did the painting in response to the "deification" of Harold Washington. The Art Institute received bomb threats and several alderman along with the police went in and took the painting down.

    Though they deny it, many artist want fame and money more than anything else. These publicity stunts get them some attention and they hide behind artistic freedom to make themselves appear noble.

    When talking about constitutional rights we need to keep in mind that elected officials have to make compromises to do what's best for everyone. Let's say, hypothetically, that this artist's sole intention was to cause social unrest that could foreseeably lead to acts of violence. Should elected officials allow this to take place just to prove a point? Are they supposed to put the city on lock down so that one guy can express himself? Do the people who live in that area have any say when this could very well cause harm to their property or to them personally?

    I'm well aware of the issues that arise when we start talking about who decides what the best interests of the people are, but I think this guy went out of his way to provoke people and he expects the elected officials and law enforcement to back him up. According to the artist the police should be directing their energy toward people who might cause unrest because of what he is doing.

    Can you imagine what would happen if law enforcement ignored what this guy was doing and he ends up really trying to assassinate Obama or Hilary?

  7. UK Black Chick aka Wendy said...

    Interestingly, although they covered over the inflammatory title with large sheets of brown paper, after about an hour of questioning, the Secret Service let the artist go and did not seek to close down the exhibition. And why should they?

    A phone call was made and an investigation instigated. It's commendable that the Secret Service should so promptly investigate and make sure that nobody was in any imminent danger, and also that they eventually recognised that no harm was done or intended. Regardless of tastes, it's merely art, not anarchy - and quite thought provoking art at that!

    Much of the race for the democratic party nomination was played out on a very public arena, with the media often times more interested in character assassinations of the two candidates than the actual policies (as similar as they often were) that either of them were proposing.

    It has been a very historic moment in America's history - with either an African-American or a woman viably competing for presidential office! It's the stuff movies are made of (and probably will be one day) so why should a small, independent artist not be allowed to comment on the media's (and general public's) focus during such an historic moment? Should Paramount, Univeral or any other major studio make a film entitled 'The Assassination of Clinton/Obama' I'm pretty certain many would be buying tickets to see it becasue we are generally more in thrall to big media than we realise.

    Looking at the websites that the artist set up for each senator, what was most shocking and dismaying was just what these two candidates were able to excite in the sensibilities of American media and, consequently, the American (and worldwide) public. Yes, some of the images are obviously manipulated and wilfully provocative to make a point, but only to the same sensationalist effect as the actual barrage that constitutes 'regular' media coverage.

    To be honest, even the way in which this story was reported by NYT and people's reaction to the story (both here and on the NYT blog) makes the point of just how sensationalism works.

    Come on, people! Assert your right to think independently!

  8. Thordaddy said...


    There are no historic moments in modern liberal society. There are only past bigotries and oppression.

  9. Qadree said...

    Wendy, you think think it's "quite thought provoking art", I think it's formulaic and boring. It's been done so many times that all it provokes is five minutes of fame for some desperate artist, I don't need this guy to tell me how sensationalism works. How is it thought provoking?

    People hide behind the term "art" because it's so nebulous. Opportunistic art, boring art, it's all art, but that doesn't mean that it's all good.

    Do you see the contradictory nature in arguing that art is powerful, culturally significant, thought provoking, and needs to be protected, but at the same time saying "it's merely art." People put forth these arguments about the power of art and when that power manifests itself they want art to be considered some sort of harmless decoration that's just there to give you something to talk about, it's not supposed to actually cause people to take action (unless it's action they agree with).

    You rarely here someone telling you to "think independently" when you agree with them, it's usually when you disagree and they're trying to influence you're way of thinking.

  10. UK Black Chick aka Wendy said...
      This comment has been removed by the author.
  11. UK Black Chick aka Wendy said...

    @ quadree: I don't think I said anywhere that it was powerful or even good art, but thought provoking. Just because you don't like it, or think it generic and boring doesn't mean that he doesn't have a point, no matter how crassly he chooses to make it.

    What interested me most is people's knee-jerk reaction to the story. Most people didn't seem particularly concerned with the content or details of the story but rather a more sensationalist slant on it all.

    Gosh, it's bad art! It's offensive! It's harmful! He's seeking attention! This isn't free speech!

    Good or bad art, nobody was physically harmed in the making of it, and even the reputations of Clinton and Obama were no worse off than they were during the media circus surrounding their competition for the nomination for presidential candidate.

    I agree, you may not need this guy to teach you how sensationalism works, but the media employs sensationalism almost as a matter of course (they like to call it 'newsworthiness') and, like it or not, we are all influenced by it to some degree. A reminder of just how much we're fed ideas about certain kinds of people, using fear, shock, and/or sensationalism isn't such a bad thing from time to time.

    And maybe we shouldn't reserve our disdain and outrage at the use of shock tactics and sensationalism for independent, good or bad artists trying to make a point (and maybe even a living and/or - shock, horror! - a name for themselves), especially when it's being done by large media conglomerates on a regular basis.

    The most successful weapon of mass distraction is the mass media. Like I said before, people should assert their right to think independently.

  12. Qadree said...

    Alright Wendy, I guess you don't realize it, but when you say it's "quite thought provoking art at that!", you are attributing this art with the power to provoke thought, just as the people who are offended are attributing the art with the power to offend. This power is what freedom of expression is supposed to protect and it was my assumption, based on your remarks, that you looked favorably upon the way he used this power while simultaneously attempting to downplay the fact that this power exists.

    You seem to think that people don't know when they are seeing sensationalism on television, but this only true a some of the time. People seek out sensationalism, especially when it caters to their own biases. Do you think the people who watch Jerry Springer don't know what they are getting? Do really believe that people don't know presidential campaigns are full of hot air? Most people are dishonest with themselves and the media reflects that to a large extent.

    Every problem that we have in our society gets blamed on television, Hollywood, popular music, anything to keep from looking inward. I don't see how you can think that people are jumping on the little guy without blaming the entertainment industry.

    The reaction to what this guy did was very predictable. You can believe it was a genuine effort to create thought provoking art if you want to, but the promotional aspects that direct the attention to him instead of what he supposedly was trying to do are so transparent that I wouldn't be surprised if he hired a publicist to get the word out.

  13. Thordaddy said...

    If art is to mean anything then it must provoke an insight into greater truth. One shouldn't confuse liberal propaganda with art.

    This "artist" claims he conveyed some "truth" about the media trying to "assassinate" the characters of these two Democratic presidential nominees.

    Nothing could be further from the real truth. The media didn't assassinate the characters of these nominees. Rather, they displayed an unprecedented and cult-like fawning for a certain black nominee while they beat the drum of concession for weeks on end in hopes of convincing the other nominee to drop out even though she was winning most of the late primaries and captured ALL the swing states.

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