To Those Who Teach the Children Shame

Shame on you -
with your acid tongues methodically etching
away at the tender capsule that
protects the guiltlessness of our
children from your disturbing thoughts.

Shame on you -
for deliberately pitting their delicate
shells so that your teachings of
humiliation will have a surface on
which to adhere.

Shame on you -
for disguising yourselves as teachers
when you have not yet confronted
your own truths and fears so often
laden with guilt and contradiction.

Shame on you -
for limiting a child's self-discovery.

Shame on you -
for causing the mothers to withdraw
their children from artists' view.

Shame on you -
for interrupting my vision.

Susan Copen Oken

his poem comes from a publication called Aperture: The Body in Question. This issue was on sex and sexuality and the powerful efforts that are underway to define and control expressions of sex and sexuality and to reinstate the traditional family and institutionalized religious practice as ideals. One can recognize the support that such families and belief systems, at their best, can provide, and still feel that to impose any particular way of life as the American norm is to indulge a repressive impulse. What we are in fact threatened with is a drive toward a rigid social conformity, with the body as the pawn, or (as Barbara Kruger has termed it under the Lenny icon) the "battleground" in struggles between differing conceptions of public morality and individual freedoms. This issue unabashedly seeks to explore these issues, beginning with an examination of gender - the body created and recreated - and then moving through photographs and texts that consider, among other dynamics, the body abused, objectified, discovered, aroused, desired, censored, mythologized, manipulated and celebrated. The images are corporeal, about the strengths and vulnerabilities of this most tangible manifestation of personal experience, ourselves, whether the body in question is a child, a person with AIDS, a victim of physical violence, or someone at the point of orgasm. Conversely, many conservative political and religious leaders, nervous that certain presentations of the body, of difference, challenge their notion of public morality (Mayor Guillani), seek to suppress these issues and have launched an attack on the arts in the United States in such a way as to undermine the First Amendment by attempting to have conditional (that is, limited) freedom of expression. Artists' studios are being raided and work confiscated, NEA grants are being revoked, a museum and its director are being tried on obscenity charges, and more. In light of these events, it is not surprising that some of the artists represented in this publication, particularly those whose work focuses on children, feel threatened. Initially, a few of them considered withdrawing their pictures - pictures to which they are committed, and which they , and the publication, believe to have integrity and merit. Although the publication shared their concerns - having no desire to put the magazine and its contributors at risk - we feared succumbing to them, for what could be rationalized as an editing decision might really be an instance of self-censorship, one of the most subtle and insidious of the possible results of the ongoing assaults on literature and the arts. Clearly, it is difficult to remain impervious to the demoralizing effects of assaults by those who so aggressively and manipulatively cast aspersions on others' convictions, motives, and choices: working through issues of quality (and what constitutes an "art" image), elitist attitudes, self-censorship, and even exploitation became an impassioned process as the editors considered the images for the issue. Some readers may think we have erred in our selection. But without the free play of images and words in magazines, book, exhibitions, and other public forums, it would be impossible to address and debate the vitally important ideas involved as fully and deeply as their seriousness demands. We hope that our audience will take this issue to heart and mind at a moment when our right to our bodies - to represent, use, protect, enjoy, and view them - is increasingly questioned and menaced. Aperture Foundation, 20 East 23rd Street, New York, NY 10010 (4 issues/year, $36.) Fall, 1990

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