When Trump comes to Australia, let’s hope protesters get more creative than the baby blimp



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Trump Baby flies over Parliament Square in July during President Trump’s visit to the UK.
Andy Rain/EPA

Felicity Fenner, UNSW

Trump Baby is President Donald Trump’s highest-profile troll. During his recent UK visit, the airborne infant protested alongside tens of thousands of marchers against current US policies. While Trump’s itinerary was carefully choreographed to avoid protesters, his nappy-clad inflatable caricature was embraced by crowds on the streets and watching from afar. Now there is speculation that the baby blimp will come to Australia for Trump’s expected visit here later this year.

Trump Baby critiques the president not from a political or moral standpoint, but at the level of ego. It is designed to embarrass and humiliate him. Baby’s makers believe such an insult has a better chance of hitting its target than political arguments, which Trump is seemingly impervious to. Indeed Trump complained that the balloon made him feel “unwelcome”. Bullseye!

Trump Baby quickly went viral, demonstrating that while art cannot necessarily change the world, it can harness to great effect the zeitgeist of cultural sentiment. Yet in these times of political uncertainty, creative people need to step up to the challenge of not simply mirroring the issues and concerns of the day, but of providing new ways of thinking about the world and its problems. This opportunity was largely missed with the Trump blimp.

While grotesque, giant inflatables have a place in social protest – the trade union movement has deployed them to great effect – there is an opportunity here to elevate creative responses beyond the well-trodden path of cheap shot street theatre.

The long history of visual protest

Picasso’s Guernica protested the violence arising from the Spanish civil war.
Artribune/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Social change and uprisings have been marked by image-led protests throughout history. Picasso’s Guernica (1937) was made in response to the suffering and violence inflicted by the Spanish civil war, and 80 years later remains a universal symbol of anti-war protest.

Artists responded with murals and multiple-edition prints to the 1968 uprisings in Europe, the beginning of the end of the Soviet empire in 1989, and as part of the global Occupy movement from 2011 onward. In the last two years, the preponderance of Trump protest art has almost become a genre of its own.




Read more:
May 1968: the posters that inspired a movement


Trump Baby was welcomed by London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
CrowdSpark

The process of staging any interventionist art project is fraught with obstacles. These range from prohibitive public safety regulations and sceptical bureaucrats to cost blowouts and unpredictable weather. Yet in Britain last month the protest gods (and indeed, Mayor Sadiq Khan) were on the side of Trump Baby, eagerly rolling out the red carpet in a spirit of geniality that was not extended by the public to Trump the man.

In the Don’s home country, the state has assumed a more cautious, sometimes censorial approach. Last year, a proposal for another balloon artwork opposing Trump was scuttled by Chicago authorities. The plan was to fly four, nine-metre wide, pig-shaped helium balloons from a section of the Chicago River that fronts Trump Tower. The bloated, golden swine would obscure the giant letters that spell out the proprietor’s name.

Designed to protest falsehoods in the current political environment, the project invoked a range of cultural references. The pigs referred variously to the four central pig characters of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Trump’s controversial “Miss Piggy” comments about a former Miss Universe, and the garish gold interiors of the Trump penthouse. In a blow to the creators, Chicago authorities blamed the potential for river traffic congestion in ruling that, for now, the pigs can’t fly.




Read more:
Going for gold: Trump, Louis XIV and interior design


Don the Chicken makes an appearance at the Tax March in San Francisco in 2017.
Pax Ahimsa Gethen/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Trump Baby, like much Trump protest art, provides some much needed levity in the depressing news cycle of world politics. It was preceded in 2017 by Don the Chicken, an inflatable fowl that temporarily landed on the lawn behind the White House. Don’s grotesque features also mocked Trump’s inflated ego and narcissistic preoccupation with appearance.

The motivation behind these inflatables and other Trump protest art is mostly uniform and blatantly obvious. The UK designers of Baby Trump have stated on numerous occasions that the current US administration is not representative of the kind of politics that people in the UK believe in. The creators behind the Chicago proposal have similarly explained that they are not activists. Instead they are proud Americans creating visual commentary on the current political environment.

Speaking to the converted

The visual aspect of the commentary is key to the concept of Trump Baby, Don the Chicken and the (currently grounded) flying pigs. Historically, visual imagery in the public sphere was mainly found in places of worship. Renaissance scholar Leon Battista Alberti wrote in the 15th century that images were essential to help people understand the message being conveyed.

Inside the churches and cathedrals of Europe, artists’ murals, paintings and sculptures reinforced the word spoken from the pulpit. Like Baby Trump, in its day religious imagery was speaking to the converted. However unlike art of the Renaissance, the baby blimp eschews the possibility of subtle inference and nuanced interpretation in favour of delivering a bland message designed for mass appeal.

This is the crucial difference between art and caricature: Baby Trump is a towering gasbag that sucks up all the intellectual oxygen in the room.

A Michelin Man poster from 1898.
Wikimedia Commons

Religious art of the Renaissance was also commissioned as eye candy with an essentially didactic purpose. However, that imagery is imbued with a narrative-based layering that continues to command interest and acclaim from historians and tourists of all faiths 500 years later. The baby blimp, in contrast, is the brainchild of graphic designers who excel in creating witty one-liners.

This is not to say that serious art cannot play a role in protest movements. However, because inflatables have been commandeered by advertising since the 19th century birth of the Michelin Man, artist-led balloon projects need to disassociate themselves from the visual vocabulary of the marketing industry.

Australian artists have proven this is possible: in Brook Andrew’s Jumping Castle War Memorial created for the 2010 Biennale of Sydney and Patricia Piccinini’s Skywhale commissioned for the 2013 centenary of Canberra, each artist drew on their own unique repositories of image and form to present unexpected and engagingly complex juxtapositions of politics, history and fun.

Brook Andrew discusses his Jumping Castle War Memorial, displayed on the forecourt on Cockatoo Island during the 17th Biennale of Sydney. The Castle acted as a memorial for forgotten peoples who have been the victims of genocide internationally.

The crude rendering of Trump Baby, in contrast, reflects its simplistic concept: Trump is like a baby – immature, noisy and self-centred. In an image-driven 21st century threatened by divisive politics, this blimp exemplifies the brash and infantile folly that it purports to critique.

The ConversationIf Trump’s troll travels here later this year, it throws open a challenge for Australian artists to greet the man and his Baby with thoughtful, artistically sophisticated responses that provoke considered debate rather than superficially regurgitating popular opinion.

Felicity Fenner, Associate Professor at UNSW Art & Design, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Large Crowds Are Gathering to Demand the Ouster of Malaysia’s Prime Minister


TIME

Thousands of protesters are expected to take to the streets of Kuala Lumpur and other Malaysian cities on Saturday to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Popular discontent with Najib’s leadership has rapidly escalated since early last month, when an exposé in The Wall Street Journal revealed that his private bank accounts held over $700 million in funds purportedly siphoned off a struggling state investment fund called 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

Najib has firmly denied malfeasance and penalized those who have alleged it. He has threatened to sue the Journal for libel; more controversially, he sacked his deputy prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, in a cabinet reshuffle in late July after Muhyiddin called for transparency in the matter.

Today’s planned rally, which the authorities have deemed unlawful, is the latest exercise in political discontent within this once-promising Southeast Asian state. The engine of this discontent is an unofficial pro-democracy…

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USA: New York City – Church School Ban


The following link is to an article concerning the banning of church congregations using school buildings for meeting places, even when the buildings are not being used and when the church meeting there has been paying rent for using the building. Leaders of some of these churches have been arrested following protests over the move.

For more, read:
http://online.worldmag.com/2012/01/12/new-york-pastors-and-lay-people-arrested-for-praying-in-protest/

Detained Pakistani Christian Released – But Two Others Held


Christian falsely accused of ‘blasphemy’ taken into custody, released – and detained again.

LAHORE, Pakistan, April 18 (CDN) — A Christian illegally detained in Faisalabad on false blasphemy charges was freed last night, while two other Christians in Gujranwala arrested on similar charges on Friday (April 15) were also released – until pressure from irate mullahs led police to detain them anew, sources said.

Masih and his family have relocated to a safe area, but just 10 days after he was falsely accused of desecrating the Quran in Faisalabad district of Punjab Province on April 5, in Gujranwala Mushtaq Gill and his son Farrukh Mushtaq were taken into “protective custody” on charges that the younger man had desecrated Islam’s holy book and blasphemed the religion’s prophet, Muhammad. A police official told Compass the charges were false.

Gill, an administrative employee of the Christian Technical Training Centre (CTTC) in Gujranwala in his late 60s, was resting when a Muslim mob gathered outside his home in Aziz Colony, Jinnah Road, Gujranwala, and began shouting slogans against the family. They accused his son, a business graduate working in the National Bank of Pakistan as a welfare officer and father of a little girl, of desecrating the Quran and blaspheming Muhammad.

The purported evidence against Farrukh were some burnt pages of the Quran and a handwritten note, allegedly in Farrukh’s handwriting, claiming that he had desecrated Islam’s holy book and used derogatory language against Muhammad. A Muslim youth allegedly found the pages and note outside the Gills’ residence.

Inspector Muhammad Nadeem Maalik, station house officer of the Jinnah Road police station, admitted that the charges against the accused were baseless.

“The initial investigation of the incident shows Mr. Gill and his son Farrukh are innocent,” he told Compass.

The two were kept at a safe-house, instead of the police station, out of fear that Islamist extremists might attack them; their subsequent release led to Islamic protests that compelled police to detain them anew today, sources said.

Despite police admitting that the two Christians were not guilty, a First Information Report (No. 171/2011) was registered against them under Sections 295-B and C in Jinnah Road Police Station early on Saturday (April 16).

“Yes, we have registered an FIR of the incident, yet we have sealed it until the completion of the investigation,” Inspector Maalik said, adding that the police had yet to formally arrest Gill and his son. “We registered the FIR for their own safety, otherwise the mob would have become extremely violent and things could have gone out of control.”

The police official said that after the Muslim youth made the accusation, he gathered area Muslims together.

“It seems to be a well thought-out scheme, because the perpetrators chose the time of the Friday prayers for carrying out their plan,” Maalik said. “They were sure that this news would spread quickly, and within no time people would come out of the mosques and react to the situation.”

He added that police were now inquiring of the Gills why they might suspect anyone of wanting to harm them.

“We are also looking for any signs of jealousy or old enmity,” Maalik said.

Soon after the Muslim youth found the alleged pages, announcements blared from the area’s mosques informing Muslims about the incident and asking them to gather at the “crime scene,” sources said.

There are about 300 Christian families residing in Aziz Colony, and news of the alleged desecration spread like jungle fire. Announcements from mosques sparked fear in the already shaken Christian families, and they started packing their things to leave the area, fearing the kind of carnage that ravaged Gojra on Aug. 1, 2009, killing at least seven Christians.

“It’s true…the news of the accusations against Gill and his son and the announcements being made from the mosque calling on Muslims to avenge the desecration sent shivers down our spines,” said Pastor Philip Dutt, who has known the Gill family for several years and lives in the same neighborhood. “The charges are completely baseless. I’m sure no person in his right frame of mind would even think of committing such a vile act. Someone has clearly conspired against the Gill family.”

He added that most of the area’s Christians had left their homes overnight, fearing an attack by Muslims.

Dutt said that a large police contingent arrived in time and took Gill and his son into custody after assuring the enraged mob that a case under the blasphemy laws would be registered against the two men. Police remained stationed in the area to provide protection to area Christians, but the atmosphere was tense.

According to some reports, a group of angry Muslims wanted to torch Gill’s house, but timely police intervention thwarted their plan.

At the same time, a group of Muslim extremists stormed into the house of Anwar Masih, a Christian factory owner in Aziz Colony, and started beating him and his son, sources said. The family managed to save themselves by calling the police and now they too are in “protective custody.”

The Rev. Arif Siraj, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan, which also oversees the functioning of the Christian Technical Training Centre in Gujranwala, said the accusations against Farrukh were yet another example of how the country’s blasphemy laws are misused against innocent people.

“We have been engaged with the police and local Muslim leaders throughout the day to resolve this issue amicably,” Siraj said. “An eight-member committee comprising six Muslims and two Christian pastors has been formed to probe the incident, and they will make a report on Friday.”

The names of the Christians of the eight-member committee are Pastor Sharif Alam of Presbyterian Church Ghakarmandi and the Rev. Joseph Julius.

A large number of Muslims, including members of religious parties and banned outfits, came out to the roads of Gujranwala on Saturday (April 16) to protest the alleged desecration of the Quran and pressure police to take action against Gill and his son. The protestors reportedly gelled into one large demonstration on Church Road and headed towards the CTTC. Siraj said that some participants threw stones at a church on the road, but that Muslim elders immediately halted the stone-throwing.

“The district administration and Muslim leaders have now assured us that no one will target Christian churches and institutions,” he said, adding that both communities were now waiting for the committee’s report.

Sohail Johnson of Sharing Life Ministry expressed concern over the accusations.

“This case is a classic example of how Christians and Muslims continue to be charged with blasphemy on false accusations,” he said. “Isn’t it ridiculous that the accuser is claiming that Farrukh has confessed to burning the Quran in his note and thrown the burnt pages in front of his house – what sane person would even think of saying anything against prophet Muhammad in a country where passions run so deep?”

Arif Masih, the falsely accused Christian released last night, has reportedly been relocated along with this family to a safe location.

The original blasphemy law, introduced in British India in 1860, imposed a prison term of up to two years for any damage to a place of worship or sacred object carried out “with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion…”

The current provision in the Pakistan Penal Code, as amended in 1986, introduces both the death penalty for insulting Muhammad and drops the concept of intent. According to Section 295-C of the Penal Code, “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life and shall also
be liable to fine.”

The laws have drawn condemnation across the world, and two senior government officials – Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer, a liberal Muslim, and Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, have been assassinated this year for demanding a review of the legislation.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org