Religious and political conflicts leave their stamp
Rape, killings and arrests. The conference ‘All That is Banned is Desired’ gives a voice to artists who express themselves about controversial or sensitive topics and in return get either attacked, persecuted or censored.
Over the past months, here on artsfreedom.org we have documented several controversial stories of censorship and attacks on artistic expression. Religious sentiments and political repression are behind most of the controversies. For a reality check – just a few examples:
● The organisers of a festival in Skopje allegedly destroyed a work of art on a street-billboard, claiming that it hurt religious feelings.
● Art pieces at the ‘Printemps des Arts’ fair in Tunis caused public outrage for being ‘blasphemous’ and offensive to Islam. The artists involved have received death threats and their works at the art fair were destroyed.
● Samantha Lo – the so-called ‘Sticker Lady’ – inspired a massive online campaign in Singapore after being arrested and face up to three years imprisonment for posting stickers in public spaces. 14,000 signers of an online petition call on the government to recognize her stickers as work as art, not vandalism.
● In Russia, three band members of the all-female punk rock band Pussy Riot from Moscow have been in detention since February 2012 and face up to seven years imprisonment since they performed one of their songs, ‘Mother of God, Expel Putin’, in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral. “They are being treated as if they were dangerous political prisoners,” wrote The Moscow Time.
Artists from Algeria and Palestine
The conference ‘All That is Banned is Desired’ will deal with several aspects of political and religious censorship – or attacks on artistic expression. For instance:
● On stage, the Algerian writer and visual artist Mustapha Benfodil will share his experience of having his work removed from the Sharjah Biennale. In 2011, Benfodil was invited to the 10th Biennial of Contemporary Art of Sharjah, where he exhibited an installation entitled ‘It has no importance / Wild Writings’. The artwork featured a large group of headless mannequins dressed in what seemed to be football uniforms with words printed on them. The installation aimed to represent the voices of rape victims who were assaulted by religious extremists (who used religious texts to justify their crime) during the civil war in Algeria. After what was claimed to be “numerous complaints from the public”, the Sheikh of Sharjah removed the artwork from the biennial and also fired Jack Persekian, the director of the biennial.
● For years, The Freedom Theatre in Palestine has experienced systematic control and attacks.
Juliano Mer-Khamis, one of the founders of the The Freedom Theatre, was shot in front of the theatre in April 2011. On 13 May 2012, Zakaria Zubeidi, co-founder and avid supporter of The Freedom Theatre, was arrested by Palestinian security forces. Nabil Al-Raee, Artistic Director of The Freedom Theatre, Palestine, was arrested in the morning of 6 June 2012 by the Israeli army. In Oslo in October, Jonatan Stanczak, who is co-founder of The Freedom Theatre, will share his experiences of years of political and religious motivated attacks on the theatre – and how he and his colleagues continues to struggle on.
Summer is here
While the rest of Europe closes down on activities for weeks during the summer, our conference secretariat, though with slightly reduced speed, will continue identifying artists and experts “in conflict” who can join us on the stage in Oslo.