Misunderstandings regarding GENDER
Maria Anna Potocka, the director of MOCAK
1. The origin of ‘gender’
Gender ideology – or the millennia-old division of rights and responsibilities accorded to man and woman – arose on the basis of the biblical tradition and prevailed in civilisations based on a religious order. It is in no way hostile towards religion to point out this obvious fact; rather, it is to remind ourselves that today, the majority of civilised countries are based on a secular culture and, thus, their religious laws have been modified. One must also emphasise that gender ideology has not stemmed from dogma but rather from laws or tradition based on a symbolic story about the creation of the world. By the same token, one is entitled to modify it.
Gender studies, these days a popular course at the higher education level, aim to bring up to date the social and psychological perception of the situation of man and woman as well as the homosexual and transsexual person with regard to gender ideology, created by a religion-based civilisation.
PS It is a glaring misappropriation for conservative circles to be using the term ‘gender ideology’ in a negative way, since it is precisely in those circles that gender ideology had been masterminded for time immemorial. As for their usurping the monopoly of using the term, this represents a failure to grasp the democratic principles of the exchange of views.
2. The role of a museum of contemporary art
It is not the role of museums of contemporary art to promote art and artists. Our goal is to demonstrate the problems prevalent in today’s world through art. Everything that becomes topical, that grabs the headlines as the current ‘hot topic’ must be taken on board by such a museum. Right-wing circles have called upon the term ‘gender’ to account for itself; we have therefore been obliged to take up the discussion, showing in what way the concept of gender has appeared in art over the last few decades. MOCAK has presented the story starting with the era of militant feminism through to post-feminism, with the focus now shifting to also include new roles for the man.
Another essential problem that we consider our duty to deal with is the role of Auschwitz and the last surviving witnesses who can make us aware of the evil committed and the evil that potentially exists in us.
PS Democratic cultural policy in Poland obliges museums to represent a problem/issue in all its diversity and complexity. According to the law, neither politicians nor community ideologues can impose programmes on museums.
3. The money from the taxpayers
Funds that come from taxes are allocated wishful thinking. This means that taxpayers cannot indicate in what way they should be employed. This is a matter to be decided on the basis of the current social, cultural and foreign policy etc. Taxpayers cannot expect the money collected in taxes to be spent according to their wishes – first of all, because each individual would have different wishes and expectations in this matter. Doctors would opt for one thing, opera lovers or teachers – for others, and all those whose main aim is to bend others to their own way of thinking would no doubt have different preferences.
The allocation of tax cannot be based on particular desires; it can, however, be a matter for negotiation.
There is no definition of ‘pornography’ in Polish law. Nevertheless, the assumption is that it is pornographic to show genitals with the intention of causing sexual arousal. Not a single work in the exhibition Gender in Art falls into that category. Of course, there is plenty of nudity there, but one of the characteristics of ‘gender’ is that the term also refers to biological attributes, so it is hardly possible to debate the term within visual art without explicit depiction of sexual features.
It is astounding that circles, which are keen to evoke ‘nature’ at the drop of a hat, are so sensitive to something as natural as the bare human body.
5. Children in a museum
Art has never been intended for children. Art expresses the attitude of an adult – sensitive, helpless, critical – towards his existential predicament. Art deals with problems that are too difficult for children. Without a doubt, painted scenes representing the slaughter of the innocents or the casting down to Hell are too cruel for children. Nor is a naked woman experiencing an orgasm aback a crazed stallion suitable viewing for children. Nevertheless, in relation to old art this does not seem to merit any attention.
It is possible to bring art closer to children but it is not possible to convey it to them fully. This is why education focuses on the use of artistic media and the conventions for representing specific themes as well as on practical technical exercises.
Children are not allowed to enter a museum without a carer who has been informed beforehand about the thematic content of the exhibition. Often, the most controversial parts of an exhibition are out of bounds to the public. And not only because of children but also because of the oversensitiveness of some adults when it comes to nudity. In the exhibition Gender in Art a number of works carry such a warning.
PS The danger of the depravation of children arises not in museums but in altogether different places.
6. Attracting audiences
It is the ambition of a museum of contemporary art to attract the greatest possible number of viewers and to persuade them that art is an important arena for discussion of topical problems. This approach is not at all about flattering the viewers or trying to pander to their accustomed aesthetic preferences.
PS One of the most prevalent fallacies concerning art is that its purpose is to please.
It was not the intention of the exhibition Gender in Art to provoke anyone. For this reason, we treat the objection, which appeared in Polityka, that the exhibition is ‘not sufficiently provocative’ as a compliment. The only objective is to present a point of view. In this, the exhibition has succeeded.
PS Scandals do not further consensus, they get in the way of discussion and intellectual reflection. Scandals are only useful for artists, because they bring them notoriety and increase their market value.