Nah. It’s not him. It’s a fake. It’s an "artwork" by Czech "artist" David Cerny, representing Iraq’s National Leader in a Damien Hirst pose. Hirst, you may or may not recall, is another artsy fartsy dork who first used this configuration with a real shark on formaldehyde in 1991.
In my not so humble opinion Cerny, Hirst et al are complete nutters. However, they have the goddam RIGHT to display their trivia if they can find even nuttier guys willing to finance them. One of these chaps is Willy Van Den Bussche, curator of the Arts Festival Beaufort 2006, to be held this year in Middelkerke, a Belgian coastal town. During the event, Cerny’s work Shark was meant to be placed in the Dronkenput Museum.
Well, it ain’t gonna happen. Middelkerke’s mayor, Michel Landuyt (VLD), has declared that Shark is NOT welcome on Beaufort 2006. The reason? Mr. Landuyt says that a Saddam Hussein on formaldehyde is better not exposed because:
"...the population is not enchanted with such a display". Furthermore Mr. Landuyt is of the opinion "that the work is not exactly sensitive" and he "fears that certain population groups might find it offensive. You never know what could happen if you put up such explosive items."
In short, Mr. Landuyt’s underwear has turned smelly, yellow and maroon because he’s afraid putting up an imaginary explosive item might well provoke a real one. Now, what struck me in Mr. Landuyts explanation is that he thought the display "was not exactly sensitive". Ahhhh, us sensititive Europeans!!! He has a point you know. After all, Mr. Hussein was FOR THIRTY-FIVE YEARS the Legitimate President of Iraq, he had tens of palaces, he was a worthy successor to the great Nebuchadnezar and so on! True, to put an effigy of such a dignified man in an aquarium, with only underwear on... That’s so... crude, you know. That’s so... repulsive!!! Ok, now and then he may have exaggerated a little, see that slightly sensitive pic to the right, but hey, we all act a little overheated now and then, don’t we?
Life in Belgium for MFBB TM types is weird. Half of the time you walk around dazed and confused, on the brink of asking yourself if you are mad or if it's the others. Mostly, I tend to lean to the latter possibility. Take that abovementioned fella Willy Van Den Bussche e.g, czar of that Beaufort 2006 farts eat, wooops, arts feat. Upon learning of Landuyt’s decision to scrap Saddam The Shark, Mr. Van Den Bussche had the following to say:
"When this started out, Mayor Landuyt was very enthusiastic about the artwork, but I do somehow understand his present reaction. Apparently some people from the neighborhood have complained and Saddam has here and there provoked angst reactions. We are, after all, in an election year. That he has reversed his opinion, will likely have political motivations. It’s just that it’s a pity that he does not understand that this work has to be seen in its artistic context. Artist David Cerny is very politically engaged and with "Shark" wanted to question American policy too. Saddam is precisely the thought-provoking element with which Cerny wants to denounce political situations."
Apart from the fact that I fail to see what exactly is the logic behind criticizing US foreign policy by displaying Iraq’s former national leader half nude in a fishbowl, it’s clear to me that like all artsy fartsy types Mr. Van Den Bussche has a low opinion of Amerikkka. You can bet on it that the good curator thinks the real danger in the world comes not from extremist Islam but from Christian fundamentalism, the real madman is not Ahmadinejad but the Bushitlerchimp, and the real terrorists are not suicidal islamonuts but American soldiers. The pic to the left shows just two of those evil legionnaires, instruments of US foreign policy, doing... yeah, what? I can’t exactly figure out what these heaps are they are looking at, but in all likelihood it must be part of some questionable US policy. It’s certainly thought-provoking, and to arrogantly trample around like that in a country where they have no business, well, that's indeed a denouncable political situation.
So, is Sharky Saddam a goner then? No. Not yet anyway. Plans are now to transport David Cerny’s masterpiece to the neighboring city of Oostende, where it will be displayed in the Museum of Modern Art. I am sceptical however. Oostende is the hometown of Johan Vande Lanotte, former Budget Minister and now Chairman of the SP.a, the Flemish Socialists. No one farts in Oostende without Johan getting a whiff of it. And one of Mr. Vande Lanottes cabinet subordinates happens to be a certain Laurent Winnock, amateur artist if you like, who last year during his working cough cough hours, designed and produced Bush Piss Stickers, see pic below, to be distributed by the thousands in Belgian cafes at the occasion of the President’s visit to Belgium.
To paraphrase the mayor of Middelkerke, at the time I didn’t think this sticker action was very sensitive either but the thing nevertheless went ahead, designed and planned in the Cabinet of the Belgian Budget Minister. No objections from the neighborhood, and apparently there was no fear for an explosive reaction of pissed off Americans either. Isn’t this a marvellous country? People here just know when is the time to show some guts!
I know Beljun politics, so I think there’s a good chance that Mr. Vande Lanotte decides that Saddam floating in his formaldehyde tank is a too sensitive issue for Oostende, given the presence of certain population groups and so on. Therefore, let us terminate with two artworks which, imho, are at least on a par with the finest of David Cerny’s work. Enjoy!
P.S.: shark and Bush piss sticker pics from Luc Van Braekel's blog, mass graves pics from this site. Forgive me.