Offensive art: The right to protest but not to censor
26 Sep 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.

Article 19
Index on Censorship
National Coalition Against Censorship (US)

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About Artsfex
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.

One response to “Offensive art: The right to protest but not to censor”

  1. The irony of misplaced appropriation.

    The issues raised by the censored piece Exhibit B concern us all, and not just the back communities, who were primarily affected by the practices exposed and critiqued by Exhibit B.

    Unfortunately, two things seem to have been conflated here; one the one hand: the commitment to expose and re-write History from an all inclusive, humanistic view point and, on the other: the claim to be entitled to express the views of a group only if one belongs to that group.
    Sadly one group has claimed the legitimacy to represent an issue that concerns and implicates us all.
    The pressure to prevent the show is regrettable for it has, unwittingly, contributed to keep the practice of Human Zoos outside the public sphere.
    For my part I shall have to rely on reading the French publication ‘Zoos Humain’, which I bought in France, to find out about that barbarian practice, and I hope that the instigator of the petition is not going to come and object.
    Sartres wrote that ‘the way to hell is paved with good intentions’.
    This act of censorship, however well intentioned, contributed in my view another brick to the obscurist practices that repress history in public consciousness.
    Beyond epistemological naiveté, bound by ideological self-righteousness, what happened is evidence of sectarian ignorance inspired by centuries of oppression and exploitation and the resulting division among those who should be fighting together, whatever the color of their skin, gender, etc.
    I went to read the argument on the site of the petition. Ironically there was no option to respond!