Art, By Its Very Nature, Is Uncomfortable
A couple of years ago, I visited a well-known and extremely popular flea market in Johannesburg, South Africa. At that particular flea market, there was a stall called The Little Shop of Strange which sold all manner of objectively weird curios such as skull candles, voodoo dolls, witches’ grimoires, that sort of thing. So far, so creepy, right?
At this shop, there was a particular t-shirt that immediately caught my eye. It was a very confusing t-shirt, because it embodied everything that I stood for while simultaneously going against many of my principals and religious convictions.
Here is a picture of the shirt on my bed because, some weeks later and after much internal turmoil and debating the wisdom of owning such a controversial item of clothing, I went back and bought it.
My reasoning, you see, was along the lines of: this shirt is terribly offensive (even to me) and it’s bound to piss a lot of people off. I must have it.
I rarely wear the shirt, but when I do, it’s a real conversation starter, especially when observed by my more conservative (but nonetheless awesome) co-workers. I get a kick out of explaining my philosophies and my way of thinking and, while they don’t necessarily agree with my outlook, they are always more than happy to engage in meaningful discourse and, at the very least, hear me out.
The clothes that I wear do not define me. They don’t make me who I am and they certainly have nothing to do with my religious beliefs.
Anyway, this isn’t that kind of blog, so let’s move on.
What I’m getting at is that art, by its very nature, is uncomfortable. I feel uncomfortable and unsettled when I wear the shirt, and it makes other people slightly uncomfortable, and I therefore feel that it must be a piece of art.
Art is meant to challenge, question, subvert, disrupt and confuse. Only dead fish go with the stream, right?
History is full of examples of books, poems, songs and even paintings being reviled or banned outright simply because they went against the status quo. Today, these works of art are appreciated by refined connoisseurs who, a mere twenty years ago, would have balked at it and regarded it as perverted filth.
I love to use the example of the well-known Afrikaans rock band Fokofpolisiekar (literally: “fuck off police car”). When this band first emerged on the local music scene around 2003, many felt certain that their controversial name – especially within the context of the notoriously conservative Afrikaner culture – would surely doom them to failure.
Well, this genius outfit has just released a brand new full-length album (the product of a crowdfunding campaign that not only reached but far exceeded the band’s target in record time) and, in its 14 years of existence, has become one of the most important and influential groups in the country’s history. Their famously energetic shows are always packed, and they have arguably the most dedicated fan base to have existed in South Africa in many, many years.
Fokofpolisiekar deliberately challenged the status quo and issued a resounding “fuck you” to popular culture and staunch conservatives alike, and the payoff has been immense. The band has become an absolute institution in South Africa, its members are heroes and the promulgators of a cultural reawakening, a renaissance in every sense of the word.
Art, by its very nature, is uncomfortable, and I’ve never heard it stated better than in this line from one of the aforementioned band’s most popular and anthemic songs, Hemel Op die Platteland (“Heaven In The Countryside”).
Kan jy jou idee van normaal by jou gat opdruk?
It’s a simple rhetorical question: “Can you shove your idea of normal up your ass?”
Well, can you?