Years ago the Birmingham Post published a special supplement to celebrate Birmingham’s first Arts Fest. I wrote a piece which was half poem and half observational game. It was quite fun so when a local shop asked if we had anything for a newspaper they were planning to publish we sent them a copy of Street Spy and suggested we could do something similar for them. They liked it and agreed but things aren’t quite that simple when art and shops meet.
I sat down, wrote a piece and we sent it over to them. They came back with some editorial requests. They didn’t want any brand names mentioned, which is fair enough, they don’t want to pay to advertise someone else’s product, we were happy to tweak that, it made no odds. However, they also wanted us to take out the piece’s ‘religious content’. I was intrigued about this as we had a related issue when a festival in Qatar wanted to book The Cleansing of Constance Brown. We asked them to be more specific, what exactly did they want changed? Ironically the material they identified as being outside their guidelines – “niqab”, “crucifix” and “evangelist” – are for me the least powerful religious references in the poem, they are purely observational details of a walk down by Birmingham’s Open Market any Saturday afternoon. There’s far ‘worse’ in there if you choose to look.
Anyway, I was happy with my version and wasn’t keen on hacking it around, we politely declined to change things and they politely declined to publish anything that didn’t fit within their guidelines, hopefully there are no hard feelings in either direction. The winners out of all this? You lovely people, Street Spy 2 is now available directly to you as a website exclusive.
Of course it would be easy to climb onto a high horse about censorship vs art and business Etc. but I don’t blame the shop at all. They are a shop, they are paying for the publication they can publish whatever they wish to. I wasn’t being paid by them to write the piece, I could write whatever I want to. We can choose if our worlds overlap and on this occasion they didn’t. Hopefully there are no hard feelings on either side.
It would be tough to harbour hard feelings when there are plenty of people in the arts world steering clear of anything with an hint of religious content. Unfortunately religion is a rather urgent topic at the moment, so not being able to mention it is rather awkward.
Anyway, I hope you like Street Spy 2 and that the religious content isn’t too rich for you. Are sheep and goats religious or agricultural?