Musing the muse

When Lucien Freud’s painting Benefits Supervisor Sleeping was sold last week for £17.2m arts columns nationwide began murmuring about capitalism, commodity culture and – crucially – the role of the artist’s muse. Indeed, as the writer Joanna Moorhead points out, the silent, subservient, selfless (and almost without exception female) muse is an uncomfortable concept for today’s society. It was, therefore, reassuring to hear Freud’s model Sue Tilley speaking for herself. However other arts news this week suggests that the shadow of the muse is not confined to an outdated concept. Chloe Garner’s campaign for a female Poet Laureate serves as quiet reminder that the master in masterpiece is not incidental. Garner, the director of the Ledbury Poetry Festival, has done much to draw attention to the fact that the prestigious position has, since its creation in 1668, never been held by a woman. In a letter to the Queen and Gordon Brown Garner stated: "Nothing in the rules actually debars women and there are many splendid female poets from all generations writing and performing in Britain today."

Exhibitions in Manchester and Sydney have, albeit for very different reasons, prompted heated debate this week about issues of privacy and cultural censorship. Manchester Museum’s decision to shroud its collection of Eygptian mummies was announced at the same time that police in Australia censored a http://livenews.com.au/Articles/2008/05/22/Photo_exhibition_...">photography exhibition on account of its ‘unacceptable’ content. Bill Henson's photographs of naked teenagers have been condemned as an assault on children’s privacy and his exhibition has been temporarily closed amid concerns about child pornography. Meanwhile Manchester Museum’s actions to cover the remains of three unwrapped mummies has ignited a discussion about ethical curation and whether it is respectful to display the dead. The decisions of both institutions have forced artists, curators and the public to question where the boundaries between the observer and the observed should lie.

Spike Lee also ruffled feathers this week after criticising the absence of black actors in two of Clint Eastwood’s Second World War films. Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima present the 1945 Battle of Iwo Jima from American and Japanese perspectives respectively. Lee, an African-American director known for his films Malcolm X and Do the Right Thing made his observation whilst attending a press conference at Cannes to promote his new film Miracle St Anna. He commented: “There were many African-Americans who survived that war and who were upset at Clint for not having one [in the films]. That was his version: the negro soldier did not exist. I have a different version.” Lee further claimed that Eastwood had been informed that around 8% of the soldiers who fought in the battle were black but had chosen not to represent this in his portrayal. Miracle St Anna will tell the story of the all-black 92nd Buffalo Division, which fought the Germans in Italy.

Producers in Broadway have announced that they are planning a musical to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela. Based on the memoirs of his daughter Zindzi Mandela it will tell the story of his struggle against apartheid and his twenty seven years in prison. Countering various misgivings about the choice of genre Zindzi said "freedom songs were so important to the morale of the people, so it's natural for the story to be told with music." However, whilst the battle against apartheid is being celebrated in Broadway John Pilger's report for The New Statesman describes how South Africa continues to struggle.