Monday, October 08, 2012

A clash of symbols

We’ve mentioned before how hard it is to find out what’s being included in the big art exhibition supporting NZ’s participation in the Frankfurt Book Fair, but a Twitpic in the stream from Frankfurt let in a chink of light.  It shows a Peter Robinson triptych that features (among other elements) a version of the swastika. 
Although the swastika Robinson has chosen is the reverse of the Nazi one and shown on its side, its standing in as a symbol of Nazism and the far right is self-evident. Not surprisingly Germany has specific laws prohibiting the use or display of the swastika even when done satirically or in opposition to Nazism although this prohibition is usually limited to the specific swastika design used during the Nazi era. 
Robinson in his use of the symbol is of course addressing the continuing and disruptive power of the far right internationally as well as in New Zealand and pointing out how far we are from reaching some level of real equality.
Still, you’d have to say including this work in an exhibition in Germany is certainly a stand-up provocative act of curation. After all the curators will be aware of the conflict that surrounded Jenny Harper hanging a similar Robinson swastika work in her Victoria University office back in 1998. Presumably, having taken the work into Germany, the curators, CNZ and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage are all prepared to stand behind it should there be any similar objections from a public somewhat more sensitive to these issues than we are. 
Image: Top, Peter Robinson’s work being readied for exhibition in Frankfurt. Bottom, the modification of a swastika to a less offensive form the Olympic stadium built in Berlin in 1936
LATER: You can now see a few images from the opening here on Barbara Walzer's photostream and more installation images on the St Paul’s Facebook page.