Many voters have rationalized their surrender of principle to expediency after 9/11, but Governor Palin's 1996 "rhetorical" interest in banning books from the Wasilla Library revives that troublesome issue of vitiated First Amendment rights. The current administration, everyone now knows, ruthlessly suppressed dissent and catapulted the propaganda for war, so the current shows, Banned & Recovered: Artists Respond to Censorship, at Oakland's African American Museum and Library at Oakland and San Francisco's Center for the Book (SFCB.org for events), both incisively curated by Hanna Regev, could not be more relevant. Featuring censorship-censuring artwork made expressly for this show by over sixty artists (38 in Oakland), Banned powerfully reasserts the democratic principle of freedom of expression as enunciated in the "piece of paper" that presidents swear to uphold.
Most of the artists here chose one banned book to interpret — though some (Confer, Hoover, Marsh, Mosalov, Nii, Siberell, Taylor) chose to deal with broader themes. All included thoughtful notes on their choices for the benefit of viewers unfamiliar with the controversies surrounding what are now considered classics: Huckleberry Finn (Bowens), for its supposed racism; All Quiet on the Western Front (Lubliner) and Slaughterhouse Five (Milman) for their horrific depictions of modern war; Madame Bovary (Hobson), Ulysses (Kamler), Tropic of Cancer (Maria), Fanny Hill (Moderbacher), and Lady Chatterley's Lover (Wurm) for bourgeoisie-épatante immodesty and obscenity; and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Hager), for its presumed initiatic satanism. This is a show with plenty of content for both readers and viewers.
The setting, too, is noteworthy. The classical architecture of the AAMLO building, Oakland's Carnegie-built former main library, with its stately arches, its enthralling murals and its panoply of gilded literary immortals' names, reminds us that Americans are by our very origins world citizens. We used to be, that is, before we diminished ourselves bowing to sarcastic, divisive demagogues and folksy pseudo-reformers. (Through December 31 at African American Museum and Library (659 14th St., Oakland). OaklandLibrary.org/AAMLO or 510-637-0198.
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