A follow up to Josh Hall’s piece “Fascism and colonialism in the work of Cut Hands and Blackest Ever Black” – published here because i seriously doubt any music publication is willing to address these very serious issues.
i’m sure William Bennett was aware of King Leopold’s favorite punishment* for Congolese rubber plantation workers when he chose the name Cut Hands. (* a wide spread colonial practice not restricted to the Congo, but also popular in the Americas, especially Cuba and Brazil, as well as in the Caribbean, in places such as Haiti)
There are fundamental differences between Bennett’s exploration of “human transgression” and “artistic immersion in taboo areas of human expression” (his own words) and other artists who make use of violent imagery, like Hermann Nitsch, whose obsession with ritualistic sacrifice is not specifically related to current power imbalances in the real world, the wide spread actual violence born of these imbalances, or entangled in the dynamics and history of racism and colonialism.
William Bennett is a European working from a position of privilege afforded by the colonial spoils of his country, who makes exclusive use of the culture of the victims of colonialism. Cut Hands almost entirely consists of direct transcriptions of rhythm patterns from cultures and people formerly enslaved by Europeans, yet the context of a European using these beats is not addressed. The meaning of a white man directly appropriating the creative labor of people previously enslaved, and currently still economically exploited by white men, is not even touched on, at all, in or around the work.
Further, with the name of the project he references the widespread colonial practice in places where a lot of the rhythms he uses comes from, of punishing slaves by cutting their hands off. Elsewhere William’s work makes use of explicit images of violence suffered by Africans, while actual violence from the legacy of colonialism and enabled/sustained by current western economic imperialism has been, and still is taking place, on a massive scale, in Africa. The safe non-transparency, the alleged neutrality of “leaving the work open to interpretation”, where the artist refuses to answer any questions, reveal political motives or position, or take any kind of moral stance, in a case like this, is not only not enough, but is problematic.
Is silence not consent?
When does art collude, by virtue of its silence, with the structures which sustain systematic injustice? Does the combination of depicting violence and refusal to take a position in relation to it, not reenforce structural relationships which perpetuate violence? Relationships which, for example, is indirectly but surely responsible for the violent killing of 8 million people in the Congo during past decade alone.
If one doesn’t speak out against violence and injustice perpetrated by one’s own culture, by a violent and unjust global economic system from which one benefits, while reveling in images of that violence and injustice, does it not mean pardoning or even giving tacit approval?
When does poetic license become, at best unethical shirking of responsibility, and at worst complicit in crimes against humanity?
Whether he is an actual Neo-Nazi or not is besides the point (allegedly parodic printed racist statements from the past and recent statements notwithstanding). The point is reproducing colonial attitudes as well as cynically exploiting images of wide spread suffering caused by colonialism and exploitation, in a pornographic sense. And it’s not about if his interest or love of the music is genuine or not, it is the way he is largely presenting African music as his own, and the meanings which accrue around the context of him doing so.
If he is, as the statement on his blog says, an “anti-racist” and “anti-colonialist” and “anti-fascist”, maybe he should directly address and confront these issues in his work, and with text or images position the work in unmistakeable solidarity with the global south. The work may have the potential to raise awareness of how multi-nationals have kept the Congo in conflict, for instance. He is articulate and intelligent, why not get directly involved politically and stand with the people, against injustice? (or does this even make sense at all? Here I am reminded of a part in a recent documentary film in which a Native American answers a white woman who asks “what can i do to help?” with: “don’t march with us. just stop consuming so much.”)
In the end he is using the awesome power of African rhythms for self aggrandizement, while projecting his fantasies of violence onto “The Dark Continent“, which amounts to nothing more than cliche art-school libertarianism, garden-variety-Satanism, and “will to power” for sad, emasculated white men. To these people, like Boyd Rice, “Do What Thou Wilt” means doing evil, and “Beyond Good and Evil” means freedom for the privileged to exploit the powerless, with zero accountability.