Shameful, Cowardly European Art
I searched for pain, and I found none.
In those enormous halls of the Louvre, I searched for reminders of the agony of the people from the Caribbean, from islands like Grenada, where the native people were entirely exterminated during the French colonial onslaught. I searched for at least one tear, one moan, one canvas saturated with sadness and remorse. I searched for confessions.
But I found none.
I was trying to catch a glimpse of the desperate, terrified facial expressions of North African women, dragged into some empty rooms, and raped brutally by French soldiers. I was looking for paintings depicting the torture of Vietnamese patriots, and their execution by decapitation, for nothing else other than fighting for freedom and for their fatherland, against the appalling French colonial rule.
No – I found nothing, nothing at all in the Louvre, or in any other major French museums.
I stood in front of bizarre, sick and cold religious artwork, full of adult looking, perverse baby Jesus’s, or of some saints with daggers sticking out grotesquely from their heads. It was mostly total kitsch, created to order from the Christian church – a morally corrupt religious entity responsible for the extermination of entire nations, of entire races, worldwide!
I could find no paintings depicting the destroyed people of Rapa Nui, no killing of Southeast Asians, Africans and the islanders from both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
I have searched and searched, for years, during my ever decreasing in frequency visits to that old and sick continent, responsible for dozens of holocausts on basically all the continents of the Earth.
Then, one day, recently, when I was presenting my documentary film (on Western-backed tyranny in Indonesia) at SOAS in London, I asked my mother, a renowned painter and cartoonist, to join me, and to search some more, just in case I have been missing, or overlooking, something substantial.
We spent days, crisscrossing several major museums in Paris, but we found nothing there, nothing in the Louvre.
Earlier we had found nothing in the State Gallery of Stuttgart.
And I found nothing in the Royal Academy of Art in London, or in the National Maritime Museum, or in the National Art Museum in London.
Not one excuse, not one apology, not a glimpse of remorse. I found no soul-searching, not even an enormous, erect, shouting question mark.
Brainwashed, corrupt and arrogant, European art has stood proud and unapologetic, unmoved by the suffering of those hundreds of millions of people who lost their lives because of those who patronized and funded most of the artists for centuries – the Christian Church, and the European political and economic establishment.
There has been no artwork depicting the torture and humiliation of entire nations; the vanishing of numerous great civilizations in Latin America… as there appeared to be no canvases illustrating entire Ukrainian villages burnt to ashes during WWII, or of the savage bombing of Leningrad, or of the medical experiments performed by German Nazis on human beings. Enormous canvases showing the holocaust against the Herero people of what is now Namibia were nowhere to be found.
I am not exaggerating, I honestly searched, but I found nothing remotely accusative, outraged, or furious at the Western torment of the world that has been going on for centuries, even millennia…
I found nothing brave or courageous, and nothing revolutionary whatsoever in the galleries of Stuttgart, or in the museums, exhibition halls, galleries of Paris and London.
I found no j’accuse. There was no scream and no agony, no suggestion that the West should be held responsible for all those crimes it has been committing. In all those European ‘temples of culture’ – all guilt was banished, as all the terror imposed on the world from Washington, London or Paris, was completely ignored.
I faced no images of the impact of the carpet-bombing on the Vietnamese villages, and no images depicting the rape of Algiers. I did not even see the suffering of Palestinian people – no artwork depicting it – or that total and quite well documented, recent destruction of countries like Libya, or Syria or the Democratic Republic of Congo.
On the paintings at the Tate Modern or at those countless Parisian galleries that I have been visiting, there were no images of women with their breasts cut off- a common occurrence during the Western-backed 1965 military/religious coup in Indonesia, which took at least one, but perhaps three million human lives – or of the women savagely gang-raped and mutilated in the DR Congo, where between six to ten million people have lost and are still losing their lives, in order to satisfy the unbridled greed of numerous Western companies, governments and consumers – greed for Coltan, Uranium, Diamonds and Gold.
Western art generously forgave everything; all the crimes committed by the Western Empire. Yes, everything is forgotten and forgiven… as it always is by the establishment itself; by the Western regime imposed so completely on our planet.
Bunches of forgiving blokes are now running museums and galleries. Stunningly ‘forgiving’, are the great majority of Western artists themselves, who are paid/rewarded generously and glorified relentlessly for such ‘bigheartedness’. Just as they always have been remunerated for centuries, because, they agreed to put form over the substance.
Just keep painting countless cans of mass-produced soup, while your country is murdering millions of innocent men, women and children, and you will be elevated to a deity, by the regime.
Because the regime and the art establishment are one single entity! And they don’t want you to be political, politicized, well informed, or angry with what your government is doing to the defenseless people of the world. And they don’t want you to, god forbid; suggest that the masses should be informed and outraged!
Just entertain, spread your colors on huge canvases, and enjoy all those great privileges!
During my life, I saw many; too many destroyed lives, I saw craters and burning cities, and I saw women – too many women – victims of savage rapes. I saw pain and despair scarring countless monstrous, overpopulated cities, as well as vast and impoverished countrysides. I saw misery and indescribable sorrow on all continents, and on too many occasions.
But during these last ten days in Europe, I saw many endless lines, numerous ovals, and squares. I saw orange triangles and pink dots, as well as fluorescent disconnected words and grotesque bizarre objects… and I saw meditations on space and on failed erections… on multiple orgasms and on rubbish, shit and gore.
I observed ego trips and psychedelic LSD visions. I witnessed sex in many different forms. I saw countless studies on parents and their children: conflict between different generations… I saw emptiness.
I found it difficult to recognize the world, in which I was living – to recognize it in the Louvre, in British museums, and in several German museums… As I previously found it difficult to recognize it in Spanish museums, in Belgian museums… and in hundreds of contemporary art galleries all over Europe…
Nothing appeared to be recognizable.
I was not asking, I would not dare to ask, for outright realism, or naturalism… I was not demanding Socialist Realism. For now I was only longing for at least some links between the ‘flights of insane fantasy’ and the universe inhabited by human beings… I was yearning for some sense and some logic, for something that could serve our humanity, something that could enrich and improve the lives of millions of people.
But all that was flying into my face, were vulgar and egocentric concepts; art for art’s sake… or some primitive and frivolous entertainment genres – the best allies of the Empire which was now willing to pay any amount of money just to convert human beings into some empty, emotionless and unthinking organisms.
For several long centuries, most West European art has been corrupt, prostituted and rendered toothless.
Lately, it has become out-rightly poisonous, anti-humanist and anti-human, deadly.
During those ten days that I spent in Europe searching for ‘courageous art’, I kept hunting for life, for real life, and for genuine feelings…
In between self-serving cacophonies of colour, I struggled to recognize some elements of great the Mexican murals and Soviet political posters… But there were no Diego Riveras and no Siqueiros.
Instead, there were countless phantasmagoric ego trips… There were lunacies and they were all supposed to entertain me, to impress me, to keep me floating in some abstract, cold but metallically cool, and always detached realm. But there was no strife for building a better world, no optimism, and enthusiasm, like in the great post-war paintings created in Vietnam, the Soviet Union and China.
Cynicism, detachment and selfishness – these were all promoted, paid for, and in vogue.
I desperately wanted to smell, I wanted to feel, to love fully and passionately, to hate, to struggle… I wanted all this, as almost every human being does want all this… as almost every man, woman and child wants to… even if secretly… even if shyly and subconsciously… in every society.
“We shall be returning to the simplest of the roses”, a great Czech poet Jaroslav Seifert wrote in his unforgettable poem.
But almost all simple roses seemed to be gone; they have disappeared, faded away.
Everything was diverting me, taking me far away from reality… The art was grotesquely mutating into a social media form, and it was having dirty brutal intercourse with the lowest grade of pop ‘culture’. I noticed that the colours were now increasingly fluorescent; while human lives were becoming increasingly blurry… before they began disappearing altogether in the distance… as they were decreasing in size and importance, as they were pushed further and further away… as it was becoming obvious that they were going to be gone, and disappear altogether… soon.
Modern European art was not dreaming about a ‘better world’. It was hardly offering any social criticism.
But has it ever?
It was not calling people to the barricades… It was not dreaming about overthrowing the fascist global regime.
But after days in the Louvre and in the National Art Gallery, I was coming to a chilling realisation – it never has… Not in Europe… It was whoring here… For as long as we can remember, ever since we have been able to monitor…
Drunk, in fact totally stoned from an excessive intake of European classic and modern art, I struggled to remain firmly on the surface of our mother Earth.
The art was everywhere, all around me, and much of it was now absolutely free, here in Europe… But most of it was clearly on some sort of sinister mission – to simplify reality, to mute and humiliate all honest, positive and constructive emotions, to depoliticize societies, and in the end, to push people away from thinking and feeling altogether.
Perhaps it would have been better to have no art at all, than such art as this!
What was it that European propaganda was criticizing Soviet or Chinese art for? I recall words like ‘censorship’, and ‘fear’!
The Louvre… Prado Museum… National Art Gallery… what else are those other than collections of incomparable and shameless orgies of submission, or servility, of cowardice, which would be inconceivable in any other culture on Earth?
Canvases of the Louvre: In horror, I observed the crawling infant Jesus depicted on every second painting… then crucifixions and of course countless resurrections… all with a frightening repetitiveness.
An image of baby Jesus with a perverse and adult face, crawling on the ground, while adults are watching with subservient admiration. There are images of some religious freaks with knives sticking out from their heads… There are bizarre angels flying, falling from the sky, fighting and threatening looking with their mean faces.
There are cardinals, bishops, and popes. And there are aristocrats, kings, governors and simply rich merchants who could afford to hire ‘big artists’. All that creative prostitution; all those paintings produced to order, forming the essence of European culture; of European art!
I walked with my mother from hall to hall. “Great technique”, she uttered sarcastically. Yes, I agreed, truly great technique… but the substance!
“All the might during those centuries was concentrated in the hands of the Church”, commented my mother. “The Church was much more powerful than the throne and the aristocracy. And the church of course employed the greatest masters, such artists as Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, and Rafael. And they were ready, happy, to be employed by the church, naturally, because the church paid them exquisitely, and because it was ‘protecting them’, making sure that they will not get burnt on the stake as so many others, and that they would not be tortured and murdered…. naturally, artists were not calling for rebellion, and there was no diversity of thought, no criticism of the system, or of the bestiality of the Christian dogma itself…”
In those years and centuries, Christianity murdered tens, hundreds of millions, of innocent people all over the world.
It financed ‘expeditions’ to what is now north and Latin America, to Africa, the Middle East, and to almost the whole of Asia.
Entire nations, countless great cultures were destroyed, and people of much more advanced civilizations, like the Inca, were forced to destroy their own identities, by ruining their own temples and dwellings, and then use the stones in order to erect monumental churches and cathedrals for the satisfaction of ruthless, merciless Christian invaders.
Where is all this being documented? Of course it can be seen in the great schools of painting: those of Peruvian Cusco and Ecuadorian Quito… but in the West?
Where in the Prado Museum in Madrid, are those sculptures and paintings depicting Christian barbarity? Where are those hundreds and thousands of artworks depicting Christian monstrosities: People being tortured for days and weeks, their bones broken on wheels, sharp objects inserted into their vaginas and rectums, men and women burnt on stakes? All this, so that they would admit that they are ‘sinners’, that they are ‘evil’? That it is justifiable to murder them without remorse.
Where are those artists who would have dared to depict the results of the crusades – the bestiality, and the looting committed in the name of the cross? They are nowhere to be found – as they were all cozily copulating with the church, as they were paid by the church, and corrupted by the church!
Where are the paintings showing full Christian coffers, stretched from booty? And again, where are the images of the millions of victims, decapitated, cut to pieces, with their eyes poked out, tortured on stakes, burnt alive?
I walked slowly through the endless halls and corridors of French, Spanish, British and German museums. And I saw nothing, nothing at all, depicting crimes, genocides and holocausts committed by the most evil institution that ever existed on this earth; the most evil institution of all times – the Christian church.
This church, this horrific establishment which has been intimidating, scaring, and torturing billions of people worldwide, for millennia, is still ‘morally’ and ‘intellectually’ in control of the most powerful and the most destructive country on earth: the United States of America.
And it is still forming the cultural essence of Europe. It is – until now it still is!
In Europe, the majority of people may not go to churches, anymore, and it may not believe in Christian dogma… it may not believe in the religions at all, but its ‘culture’ is clearly shaped by aggressiveness, ruthlessness and the brutality of the Christian church and its realm.
It is not that ‘people kidnapped good religion and made it monstrous’ – it is religion that brainwashed people, entire nations, turning them into intolerant, bigoted murderers. But search for such thoughts on the canvases in the Louvre…
I saw almost no ‘dissident’ works in any of the major museums of Europe.
I felt shame. And I felt horror at the monolithic essence of such spinelessness.
I was walked through the Louvre and through the National Gallery in London, blushing like a little boy.
How could this ‘culture’ criticize great artists in China or Russia, or Latin America? How could such a submissive and cowardly culture dare to criticize anything or anybody at all?
There, in Latin America and Asia, art has been standing tall; it has been at the vanguard of all changes, of progress!
Even in Indonesia, the greatest post-war painter is Djokopekik… My friend Djokopekik… An ‘outrageous’ political artist, with a fabulous heart on the left politically, with guts and endless courage… He used to be a former prisoner of conscience in the Western-backed jails of fascist, post-1965 Indonesia… A painter who immortalized Suharto as a swine, and former President – Megawati – as a puppet! And his own, brainwashed, indoctrinated nation, as a horde of monkeys!
Where are those ‘brave’ European ‘masters’? Where are they, damn it!
Paintings, murals, posters, songs, theatre and cinema – they have all been struggling and attempting to improve societies in many parts of Asia and Latin America, even in Africa. How socially-oriented the greatest Latin American and Chinese art is! How empty, submissive, irrelevant, is art in the West!
In Venezuela, Brazil, in Ecuador and Bolivia, in Cuba, Chile and Nicaragua, art is offering both beauty and hope; it is searching for new directions for their societies. So many songs that are sang there are deep, poetic, with stunning lyrics and music. So many of them are ‘engaged’.
The art in the West is now trying to cover up, by its complex curves and uneven squares, its total impotence, its moral emptiness, as well as the frightening brutality of European and North American culture.
As I walked through Paris, from the Sorbonne University to the Musee Quai Branly (the one that the French wanted to name, originally and arrogantly, as the “Museum of Primitive Arts”), I passed literally hundreds of art galleries.
In those days, the West had been, as I described in several of my recent essays, involved in a deliberate and determined attempt to destroy almost all the countries and governments that were still resisting its fascist grip on the global power.
‘Opposition’ movements were consistently manufactured in North America and Europe, and then implanted into Venezuela, China, Ukraine, Russia, Eritrea, Cuba, Bolivia, Brazil, and Zimbabwe, and to numerous other nations, on all continents. The Arab Spring has been literally derailed and bathed in blood, as the fascist and pro-Western military juntas have been arresting and murdering the opposition, and former revolutionaries.
I saw not one reflection of this reality in the galleries of Paris!
At one gallery I observed several metal dogs on long metal leashes that were sticking out into space… I was confronted by hundreds of pop topics, ranging from Italian sausages, nude girls and Frankenstein…
On Rue Mazarine, I was expected to admire several black garbage bags and one carton box… and then much the same in countless galleries of Quai Voltaire, only with more subdued and expensive finishing.
By now, France was heavily involved in almost all of its former African colonies. It has been playing as distractive a role on African continent, as the United States.
But you would never guess it from its visual art – from its museums and galleries!
It was all totally intellectually empty… It was finished… indifferent… and embarrassing. There were almost no dissident voices that were audible.
I was instinctively longing to escape from the Parisian art scene, as I, two days earlier, literally ran away from the National Gallery in London, ‘cornered’ by Juan de Valdez Leal and his “Immaculate Conception of the Virgin, with Two Donors”, and the portrait of a pompous and obviously well paid Don Adrian Pulido Pareja, painted by Juan Bautista Martinez de Mazo.
I ran earlier, two years ago, from Brussels, where I kept stumbling over another ‘great artwork’ – statues of the King Leopold II, a true Belgian hero, who ordered the slaughter of a total of ten million Congolese people at the beginning of the 20th century – those who were accused of being too slow while working on his rubber plantation. The typical form of killing was the chopping off hands, but millions were also burnt alive, after being locked in their huts. Confronted by such deeds, one can hardly argue against the refinement and greatness of Christian and European culture!
Statues of Sir Winston Churchill and Lloyd George, those jolly good blokes who murdered millions of ‘those niggers’ in the Middle East and Africa, are also considered as masterpieces of European art, not to speak of the sculptures of dozens of the vile monsters responsible for genocides in the Americas – those that dot both Madrid and Lisbon. And there is no graffiti in Europe that would add at least some color to those gray and bronze ‘masterpieces’, like: “assassins!”
Frankly, ten days of hunting for meaningful European art exhausted and depressed me to the extreme.
I came there to search, once again, for truth, but I found centuries of accumulated propaganda, layer after layer – piling on top of each other.
This was perhaps my last attempt, as I had already spent years and decades studying Western art, crisscrossing Europe and North America, visiting museums, galleries, concert halls, opera houses, as well as all sorts of tunnels decorated by graffiti. It was time to accept the obvious conclusions, and to dedicate my time to something more meaningful.
I searched for kindness, but I found intimidation, fear, and brutality.
I searched for answers to all those horrors that were spread by the Western way of thinking… I found only pompous sculptures and canvases, repetitive and made to order.
There were some, very few, painters, like Otto Dix in Germany, or the Norwegian Munch. These two at least managed to show the tremendous fear that has been spread by Christianity, the hypocrisy and perversions of Western dogmas.
At Tate Modern, in London, there was a substantial exhibition of Soviet poster art. And at the Pompidou Center in Paris, I visited a huge and impressive exhibition of Henry Cartier-Bresson, which confirmed, once again, that one of the greatest photographers of all times was actually a Marxist and very close friend of both the Soviet Union and Communist China.
But these were clearly some exceptions, and most of them were like an echo from the past. It is a well known fact that Western art exploded out for three decades after the WWII, attempting to join humanity… Yes, it exploded, but it burned itself quickly, way too quickly! Emptiness and soullessness quickly returned.
As the world has been, once again, screaming in pain; as neo-colonialism has again been murdering tens of millions of men, women and children in Africa, Asia and the Middle East (but also in such places as Venezuela, Egypt and Ukraine), Western art continued to do what it did best, for centuries – painting absolute shit, and strictly to order.
Be it the church, the throne, the merchants or now the multi-national corporations or conservative governments – European and North American artists are ready to serve them all loyally, as long as there is an uninterrupted flow of dough! And they are ready to compete for this money, and to even cut each other throats.
They are eager, ‘technically and artistically capable’ to deliver anything that would stop progress, to cover up all those monstrous crimes of religion, business and the state. They are ready to turn their trade into a deadly weapon, to stir people away from conscience, from rational thinking, from compassion, even from love and from basic kind human instincts and feelings.
The fluorescent lights, and huge art installations filled with plastic straws and blinking lights for idiots – that is what it is all coming down to.
Billions of those who are starving to death and living in a gutter, matter nothing. They do not pay – therefore they do not exist.
Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His discussion with Noam Chomsky On Western Terrorism is now going to print. His critically acclaimed political novel Point of No Return is now re-edited and available. Oceania is his book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about post-Suharto Indonesia and the market-fundamentalist model is called “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. He has just completed the feature documentary, “Rwanda Gambit” about Rwandan history and the plunder of DR Congo. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and Africa. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.