Presenting Problematic Issues in Art

Lolita, when it was published in 1955 (after much delay) was received by a hostile combination of abhorrent dismay and critical acclaim. Similarly, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses upon release in 1988 received both popular and critical praise but enraged a considerable portion of the Islamic community that resulted in a fatwa being placed on the author. More recently, the Netflix film Cuties was met with a #CancelNetflix response while the efficacy of the film’s intentions are still hotly debated. NITRAM, a film that explores the worst gun massacre in Australia’s history, has also faced significant objection.

These works are a small example of art that attempts to discuss problematic issues in the public domain. In varying degrees, they all portray uncomfortable representations of social problems. Where does the line lie with the representation of problematic themes in works of art? Does a work of art with the platform of Netflix have more of a responsibility to stay within the confines of non-controversy? Or, conversely, because of its platform, should this be the very arena that tackles problematic social issues?

An interesting angle for this article could be the role of cancel culture within the discussion. Do responses such as #CancelNetlfix inhibit the willingness of artists to attempt to tackle problematic issues and what is the consequence of this in broader social discourse?

  • Another example that jumps to mind is Jean-Jacques Annaud's 1992 film 'The Lover,' starring Tony Leung and Jane March. In the book, the unnamed female lead character, played by Jane March is 15. March turned 18 shortly after shooting began and (apparently) Annaud delayed shooting the sex scenes until after March's birthday. – Amyus 4 years ago
  • This topic makes me think about the art show Sensation - it was a gallery exhibition dating back to 1997 that launched a lot of contemporary British artist's careers and the entire show had some controversial topics but the controversies differed based on where the show was held. In London, there was outrage over the Marcus Harvey's portrait Myra, a large portrait done in children's hand prints of a child murderer. It led to a massive uproar, especially by parents of the victims. While the exhibition was in New York, the Myra painting was displayed without any fanfare but Christ Ofili's portrait of The Holy Virgin Mary led the city of New York to attempt to cut off funding to the museum for displaying the work. The issue with the portrait being that Ofili's main artistic medium is elephant dung and female genitalia surrounds the main figure. Art has always been subversive and, while I do think that social media plays a big role in raising awareness, I think cancel culture can be incredibly shallow when it comes to art that is deliberately provocative.There are a lot of interesting ethical issues to probe but in a lot of cases, discussion and controversy just propel a work into notoriety. – caffeine 3 years ago
  • An interesting aspect of the Salman Rushdie drama was that thr majority who protested and rioted had not never read the book but were actually told misinformation around it. The book is centred around a real historical incident which saw prophet Muhammed praise the three pagan gods that were worshipped by people who he classed as 'the ignorant' and the non believers. He later put this down to the devil had told him to say it. This caused massive distrust because how could the prophet of God get revelations from the devil and if it was possible what else had he uttered which was from the devil. The incident is recorded in early Islamic history and was widely accepted. However after more people read about it and questioned the intentions of Muhammed it was quietly put away. I would call that true censorship – saursault 2 years ago

Want to write about Arts or other art forms?

Create writer account