The dream of fitting in

In the autumn of 2007, Kulturen, southern Sweden’s biggest museum, enticed local residents to visit its exhibit “A History of Sex.” Andres Serrano’s photos provoked Swedes there to such an extent that several of the more extreme ones went on the attack and vandalised a few of the works using sharp instruments. This is obviously indefensible, regardless of what one thinks of Serrano’s images of women sucking horse penises, urine sex and fist fucking. A few days after the violent attack on these works of art, a panel consisting of the cultural journalist Ingrid Elam, clergywoman Lena Sjöstrand and art gallery director Sune Nordgren held a discussion on Serrano and his artistic work.

What is it about Serrano’s images that elicits such strong reactions? There ensued a rather shallow discussion about the importance of questioning norms and challenging taboos and, as expected, the view was put forth that art not only should, but must, provo...

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