Taboos focused on the theme of topics that are shunned, gasped at, suppressed, and remain out of sight in societies. From public breast-feeding and incest to consuming horsemeat, bugs, and non-Kosher meals, taboos span the sacred and the profane, the ridiculous and the sublime, the irrational and the sensible. Sometimes confused with prejudices and superstitions, they can be common-sense codes of behavior, means of producing cultural cohesion, productive sources of popular fascination, or tragic pretexts for divisiveness and violence. Innovative approaches to taboo subjects are especially necessary given that, especially today, worldwide turmoil extends beyond geopolitics and economics to include crises of culture and values.
Watch the videos from the salon and explore some of these questions: What subjects should or should not be addressed by cultural institutions? How can museums be more open to debate on sensitive issues? What can art—from literature and performance to film, theater, and painting—do to help people understand and metabolize ancient and new taboos and, in the process, help society evolve? What can museums and other cultural institutions do to help this process? What are great examples of exhibitions and artworks that tackled taboos, and what impact did they have? What are today’s most dangerous taboos? Is technology reshaping taboos?
Tom Finkelpearl agreed to participate off the record, so we are not sharing his presentation and the Q&A session.
The salon took place on October 23rd, 2013.
Severin Fowles is Professor in the Barnard College Department of Anthropology. Trained as an anthropological archaeologist, Severin’s research centers on questions related to pre-modern religion, cultural landscapes, human-object relations, indigeneity, Native American studies, and the archaeology of the present.
Mona Eltahawy is an Egyptian-American award-winning journalist whose work spotlights Arab and Muslim issues. During the 18-day revolution that toppled Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, she appeared on most major media outlets, leading the feminist website Jezebel to describe her as “The Woman Explaining Egypt to the West”.
Tom Finkelpearl is Cultural Affairs Commissioner of New York, a position he has held since spring 2014. Prior to his appointment, Tom was the President and Executive Director of the Queens Museum for 14 years, and the Deputy Director of P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center during its merger with The Museum of Modern Art. Most recently, he authored What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation.