Saturday, June 1, 2013

Exposition statues returned to Greece after objections to display them naked

A museum exhibition in Doha, the largest city of Qatar and one of its municipalities, recently ended up causing a bit of controversy as the museum's director chose to display three of the male nude statues of an olympic games-themed exhibition behind a see-through black cloth, hiding much of the (intimate) details of the statues. Greece, in response, requested the three statues back, and Qatar complied.

One of the statues is a long-haired kouros from the sanctuary of Apollon Ptoios in Boeotia (dated to 520 BC), the second is a Roman-era copy of a famous bronze by the ancient sculptor Polykleitos which depicts a young athlete with short curls. It's unclear what the third statue is; all that is known is that it is another male.

The statues in question, dating to between the sixth and second centuries B.C., were an important part of the Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum's huge exposition on the Olymic Games. The exhibition, aptly named 'Olympia: Myth – Cult – Games' opened March 27, and takes visitors through the history of ancient Olympia with more than 600 original objects on loan from the National Archeological Museum, the Numismatic Museum and the Museum of Olympia. Dr. Christian Wacker, the German director of the museum, told insidethegames the following:

“We had a fabric which we wanted to put two meters in front of the statues. This was a very good compromise. But the Greek Culture Ministry didn’t accept it and so we had no alternative. We do not want to cause offence - you have to acknowledge local cultural sensitivities.”

It seems that the two parties tried to work out the differences, but eventually realized that a compromise was not going to happen. A spokeswoman for the museum told Doha News that the curator of the exhibition thus decided to remove the three statues:

“This was not due to censorship. The decision to remove the objects was based on the flow of the exhibition, awareness of the outreach to all schools and families in Qatar, and desire to be sensitive to community needs and standards.”

Reactions to the affair run the gamut, of course. Both countries are playing down the incident as a minor culture clash, but that's understandable. Qatar is a major player in the world's oil production and distribution industries. It's also one of countries currently investing heavily in Greece, something the Greek economy desperately needs, as it's battling a €1.3 billion deficit. As a start, the emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, bought six private islands in the Ionian Sea for his wives and children.

Qatar is currently in a difficult position. A recent poll within the Arab community of Qatar shows that six out of ten Arabs support censoring art if it would offend cultural or religious sensibilities. Qatar's government, however, is investing heavily in the arts and international sporting events. It's looking to become a major international player, and experts predict that these very same sensibilities will hold the country back when push comes to shove. On this specific situation, Peter Aspden of the Financial Times commented:

"There is no understanding of ancient Greek culture and its invention of sporting competition without recognizing its worship of the human form, you just cannot have a serious exhibition on the ancient Olympics without addressing the theme of nudity."
Personally, I think that this situation was handled in the best way it could be handled. As far as I can tell, he two parties handled it respectfully, and in accordance to their own baselines. I get trouble with nudity. I also get trouble with censorship. As far as I can tell, taking out the statues was the best option out of the set.

The exhibition runs until June 30 at the Alriwaq Doha exhibition space near the Museum of Islamic Art.

Image source: Polykleitos copy statue

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