A few months ago my daughter and I attended an exhibit at Brooklyn Museum: Maximum Sensation by Mounir Fatmi. https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/197366

This installation is by a Moroccan born artist named Mounir Fatmi and it is called “Maximum Sensation”. The textiles you see are contemporary copies of traditional prayer rugs that you can buy at Moroccan markets. The combination of skateboarding culture and prayer rugs made as commodity makes a certain point important to all of Fatmi’s work. As he writes in his artist statement: My work “deals with the desecration of religious object, deconstruction and the end of dogmas and ideologies.”

Brooklyn Museum Website

The exhibition was of a bunch of skateboards covered in the cheap prayer rugs.

Even though I know the intent of the artist, directly from his brain, I still didn’t feel comfortable about this exhibit. I still felt it was not necessarily in the best taste to put prayer rugs on skateboards, no matter the cost or background of these rugs, or what the point is.

My daughter said that I don’t have the right to be offended because I am not Muslim. She said I should view it as art and a political statement, as which it was intended, not as a direct affront to a religion.

So where do we fall on this? Should we look at something strictly as art, no matter what it’s mocking or what its point is?

Is being offensive part of art, or art movements?

In theory, the artist certainly made a point with me. I am going to remember this exhibit far more than other things that I thought were pretty or serene or fun. This exhibit will stick. But does that make it good or right?

What if I hadn’t read the fine print of the exhibit, as most tend to do? What if I just saw it- no explanation. Would I be justified in being upset or angered? FYI- I have a post in the pipeline about explanations and art work. I’m still forming an opinion, so expect more on this soon.

But…to my original point:

What is the threshold for being offended by something that is not akin to your culture?

72 thoughts on “Can I Be Offended

  1. What’s the old saying about not knowing much about art, but knowing what you like? I think one could amend that to say, “but I know what offends me.” For whatever reason, you were offended by that piece. And even if you’re not Muslim I think you have that right. You don’t even have to explain why. It just hurts your heart or your mind or your soul in the wrong way.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. That’s a great way of phrasing it. Something about this piece didn’t sit well with me. I appreciated the idea of it, and what the artist was trying to do, but I don’t know…something about it

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I think the problem with offense is that so many people make a hobby of being offended by everything and want to tell others they should be offended as well. They make it hard for people who truly are offended by something

    Liked by 8 people

  3. To me, a viewer’s individual reaction is part of art. That can include their religious beliefs or any other beliefs. Some art soothes us with pretty landscapes and flowers. Other art provokes us and opens the possibility of us questioning our held notions. History says Manet’s “Olympia” was provocative when it was first exhibited, as was Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” — and some viewers were probably offended by these paintings. They had the right to their reaction, as do the viewers who applauded the artists for their courage to push boundaries.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. My favorite painting of all is Sargents Madame X, which was scandalous in its day…to be fair, I love when artists make me think and push me. I guess I didn’t like when my daughter said I wasn’t “supposed” to be offended. Are there rules as to what can and can’t be offensive to an individual?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Of course you have a right to be offended by anything that upsets your sense of social or moral injustice. You have an opinion. And art, beauty and what is politically correct is always changing. You cannot tell another person what to appreciate or dislike.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. I reserve the right to be offended even if it’s not culturally appropriate. That art hit you in a visceral way and you had your reaction to it. But like Tater said, I can’t stand it when people are offended by every little thing and demand others to be offended as well.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Not sure it’s okay to tell anyone they don’t “have a right” to feel however they feel but it’s more about what you do with those feelings. Should you assume that a Muslim viewer of the art would react the same way? No. Could you relate if they do? Yes. Either way your personal reaction belongs to you. I’m not sure how you can simply ignore that emotional response.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. The best art is intended to challenge people. The fact that it did enough to drum up this post suggests to me the artist did a good job. If his intention is to “end dogmas and ideologies” he is bound to offend people with his work. He got you thinking – that’s always a good thing in my book.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Some artists intentionally produce offensive artwork to drive a point home or stimulate conversation. I would have told your daughter empathy, and I would stay clear of similar exhibits simply because religion and politics bring out the worse in people….

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Some of the best art is about pushing boundaries and asking questions, as this exhibition was clearly meant to do. It doesn’t sound like it was saying “think/react this way”, rather it is asking people to get in touch with their thoughts and feelings on the subject.

    I think the issue here is whether one person has a right to tell another person what they should (or shouldn’t) find offensive. I wonder if that’s a part of what’s behind the reaction to cancel culture. An Atheist of my acquaintance was determined to be offended on behalf of a Christian and a Catholic who were in midst of a friendly, academic and unemotional discussion about Philip Pullman’s book The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. But the thing is – neither of us were offended by either the book or the idea being floated, yet everyone else in the group became unwilling to contribute to the discussion after he insisted offence should be taken – which was a shame, as they were a good mix of backgrounds and beliefs, and it would’ve been one of our best discussions, I’m sure.

    In short – no-one gets to tell us how we feel. It may not be appropriate or tactful to always express those feelings aloud, but we feel what we feel.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Spot on. It’s almost like we “think” we should be offended, or that we want to tell others what to think. It’s like we aren’t allowed to own our own feelings or reactions

      Liked by 1 person

  9. You can turn your argument around too – how far should people be able to take offence in a world where free speech should be protected? You can very quickly end up with situations like Charlie Hebdo in France. Just because somebody has a different interpretation or perspective on the world doesn’t mean somebody else should be stopped from expressing theirs.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am all about free speech and no censorship, so I’ll defend the artists right to do whatever they want. That being said, it seemed off to me, but as I’m talking about it with others, it made an impact on me much more than other things have

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I think it’s okay to feel offended because it’s obviously something that hurts your heart, makes you uncomfortable, etc. What’s offensive to one person might not be to another. I guess it’s all about learning to accept this and being okay with others thinking differently.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is a really good question. I think we (US citizens) tend to do this a lot, become offended on behalf of others, and then find it our obligation to change the thing we’re offended about.

    I’m not sure. Maybe the word isn’t offended. Maybe there’s another word for how you’re feeling. I think you do have to be a part of the culture to be offended by the sentiment, whether it’s art or something else entirely.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s what my daughter said. I couldn’t be offended because it was “my” thing. (And you know I’ll defend the right of the artist to do whatever they want) but however you look at it, the artist ,are their point because I thought about it enough to discuss it with different people, which is what good art is supposed to do

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I believe there are two issues here. One is the freedom of expression of the artist to make whatever statement he/she wants to make. Art has always pushed boundaries. If art is offensive to someone, it’s triggered something deep in a person’s psyche. That said, I also believe there is professional decency an artist should be aware of and not cross into the obscene. Provocative and controversial art always puts the first amendment to the test. The other issue is the “right to be offended” by something you see or hear Being offended by something is to discover what we stand for. It can make us realize and acknowledge what we believe to be unjust. When something makes us feel uncomfortable, we should evaluate why. Offended people form solidarity with others in opposition to a common belief. I don’t have to be Muslim to be offended by someone desecrating a temple. I don’t have to be Black/African American to be offended by unjust actions. To me, being offended by something is more of a visceral reaction to something our soul says is wrong. However…that said, we now live in a culture where being offended has been taken to a new height and being used to justify the inability to have any reasonable discussion about a topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re last sentence is the heart of the matter isn’t it? My offense is minor compared to how others feel, because everyone is offended by everything. Slippery slope

      Liked by 1 person

  13. My question is was the purpose of the art done the way it was to offend some people? Like poking the bear? If that is the case, then it worked!! I feel everyone has a right to be offended, it doesn’t matter if someone else doesn’t feel you should or should not be offended, it’s your right to feel how you do.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I think if you are offended, just think of all the offenses against Christian religion. It is most interesting to note the artist is from Morocco. For myself, I would be interested in knowing more about his viewpoint and why he feels this way. And freedom of speech and the right to express our beliefs in artwork is important and leads to creativity and to know there are others who might or might not feel the same way and if we do, why is that? Critical thinking skills, so we don’t become sheep.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I think we have the right to be offended, sounds rather offensive to me the way you described it. Its what we do about being offended that causes so much havoc. You didn’t start yelling loudly and make signs to picket the exhibit, right? 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Ummmm…no offense to daughter, yet you do not have to self-identify as Muslim to be offended by something like this. I don’t like it…yet, am also in favor of expression for the sake of artistic creativity, which we’ve discussed here before. Where I land today, I don’t like it, and would not support it, however…I’m not a fan of limiting artistic expression. Hard…my question always is, when does artistic expression go too far…who’s to say, etc. Enough. Good night.😴

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Art is such a poignant tool for expression, most artist are trying to evoke some sort of emotion from the viewer, reader, listener. I read something once that resonated, as an artist we are responsible for creating the most authentic expression of ourselves possible, but once we put it out there, it is not our responsibility how it is received. A few thoughts…C

    Liked by 2 people

  18. As a Muslim I believe you are absolutely right to have an opinion, one way or the other or somewhere in between❤️. I may be able to understand some of the nuance better than other because I spend a lot of time practicing Islam, being around Muslims, and I am married to a Moroccan man so I spend a lot of time in Morocco. That works make for an enlightening conversation for me: to exchange thoughts with someone who sees it from a different perspective! Love what you wrote. Thank you so much! I write a lot about being Muslim in America and travel to Morocco ony blog. I’d love to share it with you🌷: muslimheartjourneys.wordpress.com

    Thank you again for sharing this engaging post!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I’m a Muslim, but I don’t understand much about the meaning behind most art. I would say caricatures making fun of Islamic historical figures is offensive, as has been done in Denmark and France, but I didn’t understand the idea of prayer rugs and skateboards. Did the artist mean a Muslim can pray and play sports? In that case, I guess it’s not offensive. I don’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

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