Thursday, March 16, 2006

Monkey in the Middle

Marat Guelman owns an art gallery in Moscow that frequently provokes and embarrasses government officials, bureaucrats and enforcers of correctspeak. He recently put up a show of Illya Chichkan's work to uphold his upspoken principle of offending as many people as possible.

Entitled "PsychoDarwinists," the exhibit consisted of large paintings of monkeys wearing Russian, American and Palestinian military uniforms. Chichkan explained his theme by pointing out that evolution is not the result of natural selection but rather a by-product of lust and hunger for power.

During the opening for the show, specially selected monkeys and chimps bounded through the crowd snatching tasty hors d'oeurves from the attendees and spilling drinks. Rented from street vendors and photographers, the simians seemed right at home with the human primates.

While not presented with malice of any type, the exhibit did catch the eye of at least one sensitive government. The Palestinian embassy sent Guelman a letter objecting to Chichkan's "highly unethical attitude toward Yasser Arafat, the late president of the Palestinian National Authority, in a portrait of an ape dressend in uniform and checkered kaffiyeh.

Guelman kept his cool. He pointed out that Chichkan had not depicted the grizzled Palestinian, but a monkey named Mikki. He offered to soothe any hurt feelings by putting a sign under the painting: "This is not a portrait of Arafat. It is a portrait of a monkey."

The embassy gave no response to the offer. Russian and American interests were apparently unfazed by the portraits, much to the disappointment of Guelman. "Either they have no respect for their national uniforms or they misunderstood Chichkan's work. I am offended by no response."

But who speaks for the simians?

The Stickler

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