Ban on banana-eating artwork draws ridicule in Poland

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People play with banana peels during a protest against perceived censorship by Poland's National Museum in front of the National Museum in Warsaw, Poland April 29, 2019. (REUTERS)
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People with bananas demonstrate outside Warsaw's National Museum on April 29, 2019, to protest against censorship, after authorities removed an artwork at the museum presenting a woman eating a banana, saying it was improper. (AFP)
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People with bananas demonstrate outside Warsaw's National Museum on April 29, 2019, to protest against censorship, after authorities removed an artwork at the museum presenting a woman eating a banana, saying it was improper. (AFP)
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People with bananas demonstrate outside Warsaw's National Museum on April 29, 2019, to protest against censorship, after authorities removed an artwork at the museum presenting a woman eating a banana, saying it was improper. (AFP)
Updated 30 April 2019

Ban on banana-eating artwork draws ridicule in Poland

  • Art critics note that “Consumer Art” was a critical comment on food shortages under communist rule in the 1970s

WARSAW, Poland: A few hundred mostly young people jointly ate bananas outside Warsaw’s top national gallery on Monday to protest what they called censorship, after authorities removed artwork there featuring the fruit, saying it was improper.
The protest was called by artists and opposition politicians as part of their action on Facebook and Twitter of posting photos of themselves eating bananas in order to ridicule the ban. The action grew into a show of apparent criticism of the government.
The 1973 video “Consumer Art,” by prominent artist Natalia LL, showing a young woman eating a banana with great pleasure, was removed from the National Museum in Warsaw last week after the new museum head, Jerzy Miziolek, was summoned to the Ministry of Culture.
Miziolek said in an interview with the Onet.pl portal last week that he was “opposed to showing works that could irritate sensitive young people” and suggested some visitors have complained. The work had been in the gallery for many years.
A separate 2005 video by another controversial female artist, Katarzyna Kozyra, showing a woman walking two men on all fours, dressed as dogs on a lead, was also removed.
On Monday, Miziolek announced that the works would be reinstated, but only until May 6, when the whole modern art gallery is due for reorganization. Miziolek and the Ministry of Culture denied there was any pressure on the museum.
Miziolek, who was appointed to the state-run museum by the right-wing government in November, said Monday he appreciated the role of both artists in Poland’s culture, but the gallery’s limited space requires “creative changes” to the exhibition.
The dispute is the latest in a string of controversies surrounding art and culture under the conservative and nationalist government that won power in 2015.
Culture Minister Piotr Glinski has repeatedly drawn criticism for cutting subsidies to art festivals that were planning to show controversial theater plays on Catholic themes. Glinski has fired a popular theater director who criticized him as well as the director of a World War II museum, saying the exhibition did not show Poland’s suffering or heroism enough.
He recently cut funds for the European Solidarity Center, an exhibition on the Solidarity movement’s history and a culture center popular with government critics, saying its activity went beyond its history-teaching mission.
Twitter and Facebook users ridiculed the removal of the art works as narrow-minded and a case of censorship, and many posted photos of themselves enjoying bananas.
Actress Magdalena Cielecka told The Associated Press that the image she posted, of her pointing a banana at her head like a gun, was in protest against any ideological or political limits put on artists.
“An artist, to create, must be free,” Cielecka said.
At the collective banana-eating protest Monday night, some people brought more than one banana, while others put banana skins on top of their heads. A few unarmed police officers were on the scene outside the museum, which is closed on Mondays.
Senate speaker and prominent ruling Law and Justice party member Stanislaw Karczewski sought to discredit the protest, tweeting that Polish apples are tastier than bananas and have fewer calories.
“The #BananowyProtest (banana protest) is the straight road to obesity,” Karczewski tweeted.
The controversy was widely commented on in national media.
Art critics note that “Consumer Art” was a critical comment on food shortages under communist rule in the 1970s.


You’ve got mail: Writer of mystery letters in Jeddah revealed

Updated 02 April 2020

You’ve got mail: Writer of mystery letters in Jeddah revealed

  • She leaves notes all over Jeddah to be picked up by strangers

JEDDAH: Ever wondered what it is like to find an uplifting letter from a stranger? If you are in Jeddah, then you are in luck as you might pass by and pick up a letter in a public area titled: “If you find me, I’m yours.”

These random acts of kindness were devised by an initiative called Garba’at Rasayl, Hejazi slang for “a mess of letters.” The group was created by 23-year-old Saudi freelance graphic designer Hadeel Felemban.

The simple white envelopes are covered in stickers and magazine cutouts. Felemban said letter-writing helps her express her thoughts and feelings while sharing it with the world, one letter at a time.

“Mess happens every time I write paper letters, a mess of words and feelings, a mess of scraps and colors used to decorate the envelope,” she told Arab News.

The act of writing letters is special to her as it brings a sense of connection to her father — who worked at the Saudi Post Office more than 20 years ago — and revives the exchange of letters in a world filled with technology. The initiative holds monthly meetings in different cities, where attendees gather to write letters to strangers.

“My father passed away when I was two, and the only way I knew him was through the stories my mother and his brothers share about him. I would write to him on my phone’s notepad sometimes, but I wanted something other than our names to connect us.”

The discovery of her late father’s stamp collection from different periods in her home two years ago prompted her to start the initiative.

“It was like finding a treasure. And ever since then, I’ve been looking for ways to reuse them and revive paper mail. I realized that in a period different than his, I became a mail carrier just like him.”

Felemban shared her interest in sending traditional mail on Instagram. She was able to send letters to some who responded, but she did not receive any in return.

“The waiting was suffocating, I felt devastated and I blame that we are not used to the mailing system and its hardship,” she said.

One night, she decided to write a letter and leave the envelopes in public places.

“Writing a letter to a stranger is probably the best solution to killing the unknown wait from the other party.”

She decorated the envelope of the message, and left it in a cafe in Jeddah without any contact information. “Then I found myself monitoring the cafe’s account on social media, and was disappointed yet again. I didn’t know what had happened to the letter, was it thrown away, picked up or neglected?”

In a family gathering in early October, Felemban placed her stationery supplies and envelopes on the dining table, ready to write a new letter. Her cousins and mother were curious and joined her.

“I was so happy to include them. I complained to them about the waiting and not knowing if the letter was abandoned.”

Her family members suggested creating a special tag for the letters so that strangers who received the letters could reach out to her.

“I created the Arabic hashtag for ‘mess of letters’ and created a post for my friends in Riyadh — where I was at the time — and asked them if they wanted to gather to write letters together. I received a lot of positive responses and then prepared for the event in one of the cafes in the city.”

She hosted the first gathering on Oct. 25 and was happy to see how the simple gesture of uplifting messages had an impact on her community.

“During exam week back when I was studying, it was such a mentally exhausting time, and I used to write encouraging words and quotes for myself and the visitors of the cafe I usually go to. I noticed they had a great impact on emotional well-being. I held on to that idea by writing letters to strangers in public places.”

This simple act of kindness from one stranger to another can go a long way toward making a difference in someone’s life.