Thursday, March 26, 2009


I heard today that YouTube was being blocked in China (again) just in time to include it as a discussion point for a lecture that I was giving about contemporary Nonwestern artists. China is not saying why YouTube is blocked but many suspect that it is because of a video that was recently released by the Tibetan government in exile. It purports to show police officers storming a monastery after riots in Lhasa last March, kicking and beating protesters. It includes other instances of brutality and graphic images of a protester’s wounds. According to the video, the protester later died. YouTube Being Blocked in China, Google Says Here is a direct link to the videos on the exiled Tibetan governments website:

Because of these recent events, I spent a bit more time talking about the Tibetan artist
gonkar gyatso as well as censorship in general. Although many of the students had very little knowledge of Tibet or the heavy-handed censorship of Tibetan culture and religion in China, they were very interested in censorship, especially of the internet. The Kuwaiti government also censors the internet and it is even further blocked by many institutions in Kuwait. While the government's official rational for this censorship is presented as a fight against pornography and other evils from the West, even such sites as as well as a few dozen popular art sites are also blocked. On my office computer further restrictions are in place and even YouTube and Facebook are not normally allowed (so I apologize if I have not been able to keep in contact with some of you but this is one of the reasons!).

When I asked the students why a government would restrict the internet like this, a great discussion ensued about how governments, and one student even mentioned religions, always try to control people's thoughts. "Keep them stupid, so they are more easily controlled," another student put it.

Perhaps artists, and other ordinary citizens, can not do much against such powerful forces, but at least the students, some who might well become future leaders in government (quite a few students at AUK already have relatives in the government or in the royal family), seemed to see the value in trying.

At least one artist IS having a pretty big impact, and of all places, from within China:
Artist Defies Web Censors in a Rebuke of China

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Interesting where the Middle East is heading according to the following article:

Hardline Saudi clerics urge TV ban on women, music

I actually have a few students that would go right along with some of the conservative clerics mentioned in the article. While I have been playing some light jazz, blues and world music in a number of my studio classes since last semester, last week a male student asked me to "turn off music because my religion." This did not seem that unusual to me since right about the time he asked it was the afternoon call to prayer and I've had a number of students ask me in the past to not play any music (or even to lecture) during the call to prayer. I turned off the music for a few minutes and did not turn it back on until I asked a few other students if the call to prayer was over. But again the same student came to me and asked "turn off music because my religion." He was a young man dressed in traditional Arabic garb and looked rather earnest in his request. He had also skipped a few classes and because it was still early in the semester, especially considering the numerous religious and national holidays that we have had, I was not that familiar with him or his broken English. I simply turned the music down very low and placed it in the opposite corner of the room since other students had requested that we play music and no one objected when I asked if anyone else had a problem with playing music in class. Now this guy's friend, dressed in blue jeans and a funky T-shirt, with dyed blondish hair and plenty of jewelry, came up to me and said in perfect American English that although he personally did not have any problem with me playing music, his friend follows a more strict version of Islam and no music can be played in his presence!

So no more music in that class... although I find it rather strange that such a strict follower of Islam would even be in an art course since I've heard from a number of people that among more conservative Kuwaitis doing artwork is still thought of being Haram (Arabic for not lawful according to Islam; such as eating pork, drinking alcohol or having sex outside of marriage). I did not have a chance to ask this to him though as he skipped class again this week. He was also one of the students at the beginning of the semester who answered, when asked why they are taking the course, that he thought it should be an easy A and would boost his grade point average... NOT!