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The Buddha, the Barbie, and Walter Benjamin

[ by Charles Cameron -- iconoclasm, Iranian style ]
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From AP today:

Iran confiscates Buddha statues from shops.

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – An Iranian newspaper is reporting that government authorities are confiscating Buddha statues from shops in Tehran to stop the promotion of Buddhism in the country.

Sunday’s report by the independent Arman daily quotes Saeed Jaberi Ansari, an official for the protection of Iran’s cultural heritage, as saying that authorities will not permit a specific belief to be promoted through such statues.

Ansari called the Buddha statues symbols of “cultural invasion.”

He did not elaborate on how many have been confiscated so far, but said more would be seized from shops.

Iran has long fought against items, such as Barbie dolls and Simpsons cartoon characters, to defuse Western influence, but this appears to be the first time that Iranian authorities are showing an opposition to symbols from the East.

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Walter Benjamin, very much apropos, in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction:

The uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being imbedded in the fabric of tradition. This tradition itself is thoroughly alive and extremely changeable. An ancient statue of Venus, for example, stood in a different traditional context with the Greeks, who made it an object of veneration, than with the clerics of the Middle Ages, who viewed it as an ominous idol. Both of them, however, were equally confronted with its uniqueness, that is, its aura. Originally the contextual integration of art in tradition found its expression in the cult. We know that the earliest art works originated in the service of a ritual – first the magical, then the religious kind. It is significant that the existence of the work of art with reference to its aura is never entirely separated from its ritual function. In other words, the unique value of the “authentic” work of art has its basis in ritual, the location of its original use value. This ritualistic basis, however remote, is still recognizable as secularized ritual even in the most profane forms of the cult of beauty. The secular cult of beauty, developed during the Renaissance and prevailing for three centuries, clearly showed that ritualistic basis in its decline and the first deep crisis which befell it.

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Sources:

Barbie Sitting Acrylic Cut Out
Buddha, seated

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2 Responses to “The Buddha, the Barbie, and Walter Benjamin”

  1. Derek Robinson Says:

    I expect that the Iranian authorities regard Buddha statues as the equal of Barbie dolls in representing the cultural imperialism of the West, not of the East – and in this they’d be right.

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    Hi Derek:
    .
    I’d have thought the category “Other” would be sufficient — no need to think of Buddha figures as eastern or western.  Barbies, though — western without a doubt. 


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