United Kingdom: Common statement in defense of offensive art
“We must prevent the repetition of recent ‘successful protests’ in which the artist is silenced by threats of violence towards the institution, the work or the artist him or herself, as we saw with ‘Exhibit B’ in London, and ‘The City’, the hip-hop opera by the Jerusalem-based Incubator Theatre company”
The right to protest but not to censor
The organisations Article 19, freeDimensional, Freemuse, Index on Censorship, National Coalition Against Censorship (US), and Vivarta published the following common statement on 26 September 2014:
“We the undersigned members of Artsfex condemn an alarming worldwide trend in which violent protest silences artistic expression that some groups claim is offensive. People have every right to object to art they find objectionable but no right whatsoever to have that work censored. Free expression, including work that others may find shocking or offensive, is a right that must be defended vigorously.
We call on artists, arts venues, protestors and the police to work together as a matter of urgency, to stand up for artistic free expression and to ensure that the right to protest does not override the right to free expression. This means that every possible step is taken to ensure that the art work remains open for all to see, while protesters voices are heard.
We must prevent the repetition of recent ‘successful protests’ in which the artist is silenced by threats of violence towards the institution, the work or the artist him or herself, as we saw with ‘Exhibit B’ in London, and ‘The City’, the hip-hop opera by the Jerusalem-based Incubator Theatre company, which was disrupted and consequently cancelled earlier this year in Edinburgh.
Greater clarity around policing of controversial arts events is an essential first step. In the United Kingdom there is nothing at present in Association of Chief Police Officers guidance relating to the particulars of policing cultural events, except in reference to football matches and music festivals.
Controversial art triggers debate – and in the case of Exhibit B there was a huge outpouring of feeling in opposition to the work. A contemporary institution should anticipate and provide for this. Detailed planning such as this is important if the arts venue is to cater for both the artwork and the debate it generates.
We are concerned that unless arts institutions prepare procedures to manage controversy, including to develop strategies for working with the police to control violence, our culture will suffer as a result and become less dynamic, relevant and responsive.”
For further information, please call 0207 260 2660
ARTSFEX is an international civil society network actively concerned with the right of artists to freedom of expression as well as with issues relating to human rights and freedoms. ARTSFEX aims to promote, protect and defend artistic freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly, thought, and opinion in and across all art disciplines, globally.
‘Exhibit B’ and ‘The City’: Media coverage
BBC News – 31 July 2014:
Israeli show cancelled following protest in Edinburgh (video)
An Israeli show at the Edinburgh Fringe has been cancelled after only one performance following a protest by a pro-Palestinian group.
BBC News – 19 August 2014:
Israeli show cancelled at Edinburgh Fringe goes to England
An Israeli company’s show that was cancelled at the Edinburgh Fringe after protests over Gaza will begin a series of shows in London and Leeds.
BBC London News – 1 September 2014:
Barbican Centre exhibition branded ‘racist’ (video)
One of London’s top galleries has been criticised for planning to host an exhibition that has been branded racist by some critics.
» The Guadian – 24 September 2014:
Barbican criticises protesters who forced Exhibit B cancellation
“Withdrawal of anti-slavery exhibition hailed as victory by campaigners, but Barbican says cancellation has implications for artistic freedom”
» Free Speech NOW – 25 September 2014:
Exhibit B: Artists must have right to shock
“It was a sad day for freedom when Brett Bailey’s work was shut down by a mob.”
» The Observer | The Guardian – 28 September 2014:
What price artistic freedom when the bullies turn up?
The closure of a Barbican show, forced by self-appointed censors claiming it was racist, threatens free expression
By Catherine Bennett. Jump to comments (431)
The Independent – 28 September 2014:
It’s not just the censorship of Exhibit B which proves that the stupid are winning
We’ve reached a worrying moment in our history where anything awkward or ambiguous is deemed unworthy
By Terence Blacker
» Huffington Post – 29 September 2014:
A Note on Censorship – Some Final Reflections on the Human Zoo Campaign
Banned, censored and 'offensive' artworks (Gallery of 8 photos)