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May 18, 2003 8:36 PM   Subscribe

Politics storms the museum Earlier this month, the National Museum of Natural History opened "Seasons of Life and Land," an exhibit of wildlife photographs by artist-naturalist Subhankar Banerjee. If you go to Washington, you'll find the show hung in the museum's Baird Ambulatory Gallery, essentially a basement hallway installed with lights. Just two months ago, however, it was prepared to run in a more complete form in a premiere gallery on the museum's main floor, alongside a major exhibit of botanical paintings. What happened?
posted by bas67 (15 comments total)

 
As a foreigner living in the U.S I am increasingly dismayed at the attacks on any dissenting opinions in this great country. The diversity and acceptance of the U.S. has always been it’s great strength (IMHO). I find it sad that some would make the greatest country on earth a sad little “yes man” of nations.

I find it even more depressing that some citizens of this great country could call Alaska’s far north a "flat, white nothingness,”. I have not been to the area of Alaska photographed by Subhankar Banerjee but I did spend an all too brief period teaching in Canada’s far north. It is an amazingly alive place full of caribou, ptarmigan, wolves, flowers and incredibly tiny bees and flies (short season so they grow and die fast). It is also full of many hard, resilient and good people. Many of them have left and moved to the great southern centers in pursuit of the western ideal and then returned to the harsh land.

It is deeply troubling to me that some folks seem to be trying to deny people even the chance to even see alternative ways of living or thinking.
posted by arse_hat at 1:03 AM on May 19, 2003


My morning drill: wake up, cup of tea, open Metafilter and .... ever more outrageous Republican-inspired crimes against nature and democracy. What a way to start my day!
posted by zaelic at 1:26 AM on May 19, 2003


I have to say that the linked article is fabulously poorly written, and the spelling is atrocious. If the exhibit had been cancelled or actually censored, I could more readily sympathize with the cause for alarmed outcry.

Personally, if the Smithsonian offered me a venue in which to show photographs, I'd not complain even if it was the darn bathroom.

Be that as it may, here are some newsy reports:

Museum's Shift Of Arctic Refuge Exhibit Gets Cold Reception

Alaskan Mysteries

Pictures of Arctic scare Smithsonian

And finally, Banerjee's site. With its slogan: "Working to preserve cultural diversity and the environment". (a little love bomb of hot-button liberal politics, not that the pictures aren't stunning)

I guess the questions are: Is the Smithsonian a venue for political grandstanding? There is no current oil drilling, and the proposition to drill has been defeated twice. Will a photography exhibition significantly alter that? Does drilling for oil substantially harm the environment? Are there safer ways to transport oil?
posted by hama7 at 3:15 AM on May 19, 2003


If the exhibit had been cancelled or actually censored, I could more readily sympathize with the cause for alarmed outcry.
Three weeks later, the Smithsonian contacted Banerjee to advise him that his exhibit would be shown in the basement hallway, between the loading dock and the elevators. Also, the detailed informational captions would be reduced to one-line titles. The captions were too ideological, said one museum official. No, said another, they were too sentimental.
Sounds like they were censored to me.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:51 AM on May 19, 2003


Sigh - a few years ago it was Mapplethorpe's work that caused controversy - you know, the infamous cross in a glass of piss and all those naughty photographs.

Now you can't even take photographs of rock lichens without someone raising hell about it.
posted by pyramid termite at 5:32 AM on May 19, 2003


the infamous cross in a glass of piss

That was Andre Serrano, controversial because it was taxpayer-funded by a grant from the NEA.
posted by hama7 at 5:49 AM on May 19, 2003


The Right’s modus operandi seems to be systematic erasure of inconvenient ideas, opinions, and facts from their personal universes.

Personally, I think this speaks volumes about these people. They love to preach to the choir.

Those who identify themselves with the Right should ask themselves why they cannot abide anything else.
posted by Cerebus at 5:51 AM on May 19, 2003


It's worth pointing out that the Smithsonian is largely funded by Congress, and individual Congresscritters (especially those on appropriations committees) can and do call up the Secretary and the various museum directors and demand exhibit changes. SI's actions do not necessarily reflect SI's actual opinions.
posted by SealWyf at 6:40 AM on May 19, 2003


The *_____’s modus operandi seems to be systematic erasure of inconvenient ideas, opinions, and facts from their personal universes.

Personally, I think this speaks volumes about these people. They love to preach to the choir.

Those who identify themselves with the *_____ should ask themselves why they cannot abide anything else.


*Insert detested opposing political group, religious entity or despised ethnic group.

Is the Smithsonian a venue for political grandstanding?

Seeing as the Smithsonian is an institution run by politicians, being as it is run by the Federal government, I'd say they can pretty do whatever the policy of the standing administration says it should do, just like say, the Field Museum in Chicago has to do whatever its board's policies dictate. Now as a foreigner or a close minded American, people of opposing viewpoints exercising their rights of free speech may seem confusing, but despite what they may feel, in our country we permit all political groups, even the right, to speak, we might not agree with them, but that's OK, those in the opposition are also permitted to speak. This to the untrained eye appears as attacking, but that is because the outsider has only up until then been able to view politics on a single dimension.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:41 AM on May 19, 2003


those in the opposition are also permitted to speak

... from a basement, and after parts of their speech deemed unacceptable have been trimmed ...

Gallinaclueca, mas bien.
posted by magullo at 7:56 AM on May 19, 2003


There was a similar controversy in the mid-1990s with the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, regarding the exhibit of the Enola Gay. IIRC, the original text for the exhibit sought a presentation of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that examined the official rationale for the dropping of the atomic bomb (saving lives in an invasion), and also described the victims. This view was challenged by the American Air Force Association as being historically revisionist, and a reduced exhibition was finally staged. Documentation and some analyses of the controversy from various points of view here, here.

Hama7, perhaps the issue is not whether museums are used for political grandstanding (you can't design an exhibit that will please everybody), but how we promote and support a public sphere that allows for a plurality of viewpoints and disagreements, including those we don't agree with.
posted by carter at 8:25 AM on May 19, 2003


To paraphrase Ann Richards, former Texas governor, sexy senior and all around fire cracker, the best way to get more Democrats in office is to let the Republicans speak.

I can't believe my tax dollars went to display some thing called the Enola GAY! I'm going to write my congressman and minister.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:28 AM on May 19, 2003


Hmm, on the topic of censorship, don't forget the deleted caribou calving areas map controversy.

Does drilling for oil substantially harm the environment?

In a word--as indicated above--Yes!

Here is chapter 11, Major Effects and Their Accumulation from the National Academies' National Research Council's Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activities on Alaska's North Slope.

From the Geological Society:

The report concludes::

Roads. The report says that roads have had effects as far- reaching and complex as any physical component of the North Slope oil fields. Roads alter animal habitat and behavior, but also increase communication between North Slope residents and those outside the area.

Damage to tundra. The tundra has been damaged by the geophysical survey techniques that are critical to oil exploration efforts.

Animal population. Because human food is available in oil fields despite efforts to control foodstuffs, more predators (brown bears, arctic foxes, ravens, etc.) have been observed. As a result, some bird and mammal species have been negatively impacted.


And here is the Wilderness Society's response to the report, and I quote:

The Department of Energy has estimated that without drilling in the Arctic Refuge, we'll import 62 percent of our oil in the year 2020. And if we do drill? The Department of Energy says we'll still be importing 60 percent of our oil in 2020.

From The union of Concerned Scientists,

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Is loss of a pristine wilderness worth the oil that might be gained?

On the other hand, proponents of drilling claim that the ANWR recoverable amount is in the 10 to 16 billion barrels range. The USGS, however, calculated only a five percent chance that there are actually 16 billion barrels in the coastal plain and surrounding area; and only a portion of that oil -- however much it actually is -- could be recovered economically. Also to be considered is the reality that even if ANWR were opened to drilling immediately, the oil would not reach refineries for another 10 years, and it would take approximately 15 more years before the region reached maximum production levels.

Even then, over its 50-year lifespan, ANWR would contribute less than one percent of the oil this country will consume. Furthermore, many drilling proponents try to downplay the impacts by stating that only 2,000 acres will be affected -- yet this acreage is spread over 35 discrete sites on the coastal plain, requiring roadbuilding and pipeline construction between the sites and between ANWR and Prudhoe Bay facilities.

posted by y2karl at 10:05 AM on May 19, 2003


Seems like such an operation wouldn't be too prfitable for an oil company selling the results of such drilling. But very profitable for the company in charge of construction the oil field operations. Funny that.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:11 AM on May 19, 2003


My morning drill: wake up, cup of tea, open Metafilter and .... ever more outrageous Republican-inspired crimes against nature and democracy.

Republican crimes against nature and democracy do seem (at least these days) to be a never-ending, constantly renewable source. If they could somehow hook such idiocies up to a series of generators, we wouldn't need any oil from the Arctic wilderness.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:32 AM on May 19, 2003


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