Tag Archives: France

The Other America: Cultural Literacy & Tolerance

In a pre pandemic world I once walked into a Chase bank preparing for a trip to New Zealand. The Lake Merritt area of Oakland is six miles from San Francisco in a highly educated, successful area. I walked up to the teller with my account information and asked for the exchange rate for New Zealand dollars. The teller said sure, and then asked me if I could I tell him what kind of money I wanted? I said “New Zealand dollars”. He said yes, I understand, but then continued to speak to me very slowly, “What kind of money did I want to purchase”? I said, “dollars, New Zealand dollars”.

It felt like I was in a secret comedy skit. The teller said, “Let me get my manager.” The bank manager came back and said she understood I wanted to buy New Zealand dollars. At last I could breathe. She looked me straight in the eye and asked me, “Can you tell me what kind of money they use in New Zealand”?  I looked at her and said, “New Zealand Dollars”.

It was mind boggling for me. How could the manager of one of the largest international banks in a major metropolitan city not know the currencies of other countries? How could a bank not know other places in the world use dollars (Canadian Dollar, Australian Dollar not to be confused with the New Zealand dollar, Singapore dollar, Bahamian Dollar, Cayman Dollar, Cook Islands Dollar, Hong Kong dollar, Liberian dollar, Jamaican dollar) in addition to the US dollar?

EXPOSURE TO OTHER CULTURES AND RACISM

The average American has only traveled to 3 countries and two of those often include Canada and Mexico. More shocking, a third of Americans have not only never left the country, they’ve never traveled more than 50 miles from where they were born. What, I wonder, is the correlation between the latter and the political right wing stance, fear of the other?  I then have to ask, what is the correlation between the forgotten states, those that visitors rarely enter: Missouri, Alaska, Montana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, and the prevalent racism towards anyone not like them?

A GOLDFISH BOWL IS NOT THE WORLD                        

Many Americans do not realize they have lived their life in a Goldfish bowl. Europeans living in countries in close proximity to one another realize they are in an aquarium. It is common for other countries to speak more than one language. To hear a Trump supporter yell to someone speaking Spanish “Speak American here” is an example of how isolation feeds fear. Clearly oblivious that Spanish is the language of Central America, South America, and nearly half of North America and is spoken by nearly 500 million people in the world. (Only 360 million people speak English as their first language). Spanish evolved out of the Iberian Peninsula in Southwestern Europe and spread through colonization into the the America’s when the Spanish Empire was one of the largest in history. When you travel you live in the Ocean.

WHEN YOU TRAVEL YOU LIVE IN AN OCEAN

As a disclaimer, I am not rich, but adventurous. That trait has goaded me to visit 44 countries and live on three continents. Beginning with a tour of duty in Europe that allowed for travel, I learned many ways to travel on the cheap. The more I traveled, the more I saw how we are all more alike than different. It is an attitude of “us and them” that keeps us in continuous fear and war.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE OCEAN HAS BEEN REDUCED TO A SCREENSAVER?

So what happens in a pandemic when we are all forced to live in a bubble and the Ocean has been reduced to a screensaver? How can we avoid emotional contraction when we are showered with propaganda and disinformation by those intent on destroying us through derision?  By adding a few creative challenges to their curriculums, teachers can change America in one generation. I am not a teacher but a traveler, but I will share what I’ve taken away from experience and from my own amazing teachers.

YOU CAN NOT UNDERSTAND A PEOPLE IF YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND THEIR CULTURE

When I was living in Germany, France was just a few hours drive away and I visited often. I did not speak French. I loved everything and everyone French, but they were very closed to me. I learnt that the French do not believe you can understand them unless you understand their culture. They are their culture. I learned from this and have taken it to every country I have visited.

Who are their best selling authors? Who are their most famous films or film directors? Who are their famous composers, musicians, poets, and artists? (Not just the dead ones, but those living right now). What is the culture famous for (and not just in the tourist areas)? How many languages do they speak in their country?

Teachers or homeschoolers can do this with one country a week. We must make people of different nationalities more than a place on a map. After the culture of a place has been explored, watching travel videos, watching a movie made in that country and reading a book by one of its famous authors can be included. It does not have to be boring. I was reading Jules Verne in first grade and had no idea he was French.

“MANNERS WILL TAKE YOU FURTHER IN LIFE THAN A MASTERS DEGREE”

Another thing I learnt from the French that needs to be relearned in the US, are the importance of manners. Americans used to say the French are rude. They aren’t. Actually, Americans are. You do not treat anyone like a servant in France. You must always be respectful. You must always say Good Morning, Good Afternoon, or Good Evening to anyone you do business with. This is always followed by, “how are you today”. If you do not follow the basic rules of etiquette Hell will freeze over before anyone will serve you.  It gave me one of my famous mantras, “manners will take you further in life than a Masters Degree”.

CREATE A FICTIONAL UNIVERSE

My fourth grade geography teacher made the class read JRR Tolkien’s, The Hobbit one semester. It was fun and a bit challenging. Afterwards, we were divided in groups and each group had to create its own fictional universe. We had to understand its climate, economics, spiritual-belief system, what language they spoke, what they ate, how they raised and educated its children, their political system, every aspect of our own society. We had to make maps of our world and provide drawings or examples of everything down to what they wore and how it was made and of what material. Presentations were made and each universe was incredibly different from one another because each of us brought our own life experiences to the project. When we were done, the next semester was spent understanding the different continents of the world. The experience inventing our own universe allowed us to take in cultures in this way. That teacher had expanded our worlds in a way that made someone else’s just as interesting.

In college I was required to take three credits in cultural studies and was surprised that the course included movies based on historical events in many native languages. Each film informed us as to how those events influenced the political and cultural direction a country embodied.  Again, culture informs.

HOW DIFFERENT WOULD OUR SOCIETY BE IF BLACK HISTORY MONTH WASN’T TAUGHT ONLY ONE MONTH OUT OF THE YEAR?

How different would our society be if Black History Month was not taught one month a year but included in American history? Why should the inventor of closed-circuit television security, the IBM Computer and Pacemaker, gas mask, sanitary napkin, caller ID, touch tone phones, fiber optic cable and peanut butter be relegated to one month when every day of our lives is gifted by a black inventor?

CULTURAL LITERACY DOES NOT MAKE US LOSE OURSELVES; IT SHOWS US THE KIND OF PEOPLE WE WANT TO BE.

People who fear anyone who is different in belief or custom is still living in a goldfish bowl. America to other nations is known for inventing BBQ, jazz, movies, and Silicon Valley, that’s it. We are seen as being fat, uneducated, and war mongering. We are currently viewed as a nation of bullies that does not care for its children, elders, or its sick.  Cultural literacy does not make us lose ourselves, it shows us the kind of people we want to be.

Copyright free image courtesy of Pixabay and Msporch


Uriél Danā on Film ShootUriél Danā has been a Professional Fine Artist 38 years and is a Contributing Editor on the arts and other subjects for two online arts magazines.

She is an Air Force Veteran and former USIA (State Department) Ambassador to the Arts. She is a graduate of the 2016 Writers Guild of the West (Los Angeles, CA) Veterans Writing Project.

A Contributing Editor on the Arts, Buddhism and Culture, Uriél contributes regularly to online and print magazines in addition to international journals. She has won many awards for her poetry and has been included in two anthologies. For National Poetry Month, April 2020, her poems will be featured on San Francisco’s public radio station, KPFA.

 

A resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, Uri has lived on three continents and visited 44 countries.

Art Censorship: How Social Media Edits Our World View

With all the horror terrorizing the world, something wonderful happened recently for the arts, and we have the French to thank for it.

In a landmark censorship case against art, the French ruled that Facebook can be sued in France for censoring content. Parisian teacher Fréderic Durand-Baissas had his account suspended 5 years ago after he posted Gustave Courbet’s painting, The Origin of the World, because it depicts female genitalia.

The social media giant tried to insist complaints had to be tried in California Courts. They lost as the French courts said, we think not. The Paris appeals court dismissed those arguments. The ruling could set a legal precedent in France, where Facebook has more than 30 million regular users.

M. Durand-Baissas, a 57 year old art lover and a father of two was angry at being portrayed as a pornographer after posting the famous 1866 oil painting. He told AP News Service, If (Facebook) can’t see the difference between an artistic masterpiece and a pornographic image, we in France can.

As a professional artist and a curator of contemporary figurative artists emerging from the atelier systems, the issue of censorship on social media has been an ongoing issue. One of the problems is that social media image scanning algorithms cannot tell the difference between pornography and the painted image.

In fact these algorithms often can’t decipher the images they are viewing. For example, this painting by Marco Grassi was removed from my feed and my account was frozen for three days. (It was properly identified for copyright and included his bio).

Art Censorship - Marco Grassi - Autocorpo
©Marco Grassi, “Autocorpo”, oil painting. This painting caused my Facebook account to be suspended for 3 days. The algorithm could not tell a marble arm or a human foot from a penis.

France is not the only country taking issue with Facebook, Norway, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands have also insisted Facebook explain itself and about its ludicrous censorship policies. Examples include male nipples being OK, female nipples banned. Breastfeeding is banned but the beheading of a human or the evisceration of an animal is not.

Norwegian author Tom Egeland had his account suspended when he posted the Pulitzer prize winning photo The Terror of War which depicts children, including a naked girl fleeing from a napalm attack. The subject was about photos that changed the history of warfare.

One of the issues with trying to contest our pages being shut down is that most of the complaints are turned over to a low paid home based operator. Often, especially in European accounts, moderators are Chinese, Indian or even American companies with a deeply Christian tradition   Moderators impose their own cultural or religious belief on their decision, often breaking European censorship laws.

A clear example of this happened to American Senior Art critic and columnist for the New Yorker Magazine, Jerry Saltz. Saltz was kicked off of Facebook for posting images of medieval art. Although he has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize three times, a blitz of hate and insults were directed at him personally.

The problem is that anyone who views art or imagery which conflict with their own beliefs can have your page shut down by moderators. A Muslim man that expects his wife to be covered is not going to want to see a woman in her natural form. White nationalists target paintings with people of color. The problem I have with this issue is the same question other artists have, “Why follow our art if you don’t like it?”

Having this kind of inverted censorship has created decades of the visually illiterate. Much of art being posted online is amateur, sentimental at best, toxic at worst. The classically trained painters are systematically blocked, often by people who want to control and punish others who see the world differently. It has become a tool for control those who embody shame, rage, religious dogma.

Cesar Santos, a master painter who trained at the Angel Academy of Art in Florence, had 30,000 followers on Facebook. His account was closed by Facebook because “the haters kept reporting his nudes.”

Art Censorship - Cesar Santos - Map of an Island
© Cesar Santos, oil painting, “Map of An Island”.

If Social Media can create an Emotion Buttons its time for them to create an Art Button. An Art button would tell people they must be over 18 to view, that there might be nudity involved. If you view that person’s art page, you have agreed that you are of age and know what you may see. You will not have the right to report. (While they are at it they can design one for violence too).

How difficult could this be for coders if they have technology to recognize the skin of a child based on Markov Random Field Modelling? (I won’t explain it because it’s too creepy).

Here’s an image by Kamille Corry that got my account blocked both on Facebook and on Twitter.

Art Censorship - Kamille Corry - Scorched Wings
©Kamille Corry, oil painting, “Scorched Wings”.

As long as social media censors art, our perception of both art and the human form will be distorted. The human anatomy is studied, drawn, and painted for years by professional artists. It is a satellite for every emotion and a timeless beacon of all that we all share, our humanness.

Art Censorship - Angela Cunningham
©Angela Cunningham, student work from Grand Central Atelier in NYC

Featured Image: A visitor in front of Gustave Courbet’s 1866 “The Origin of the World,” painting which depicts female genitalia at Musee d’Orsay museum, in Paris, France.

To follow my Twitter feed on contemporary figurative art you can find me at Twitter.com/Uridev