Gatekeepers of censorship: Contemporary erotic art in a digital age

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”104276″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Join Julia Farrington, associate arts producer at Index on Censorship, psychoanalyst and professor Adam Phillips, and artist Celia Hempton as they discuss the challenges in creating erotic art in today’s contemporary art world with journalist and broadcaster Kirsty Wark.

Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele were two artists that frequently scandalised their audiences in the early 20th century. But what if they were making the same works now – would they be censored? What defines erotic art? Who decides when erotica crosses the line into pornography?

In an age of successful digital media platforms and the prolific production of transgressive artworks, new methods of censorship have become a controversial and impeding issue for contemporary artists. Our panel investigate how censorship has changed in the digital age and to what extent it stifles an artist’s creativity.[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”104271″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]Julia Farrington

Farrington is associate arts producer at Index on Censorship. She runs Index’s UK programme monitoring contemporary forms of censorship and self-censorship in the arts and reinforcing institutional support for artistic freedom of expression. She co-edited Art and the Law, a series of bespoke information packs for the arts sector, looking at the rights and legal framework around what is sayable in the arts in the UK. She has also worked with the police, examining their role in the removal or cancellation of controversial artworks in recent years, and is currently heading up Risks, Rights, Reputation – challenging a risk averse culture an Arts Council England-funded training programme for CEOs and trustees of arts organisations.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”104273″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]Celia Hempton

Hempton lives and works in London. Her work is included in public and private collections including Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín, Colombia, The British Council, London, UK, DRAF, London, UK, Fiorucci Art Trust, London, UK. Current and forthcoming exhibitions include Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today, Michigan Museum of Art, USA, Taking Up Space, Government Art Collection, London (2018), Tainted Love, Villa Arson, Nice, France, Personal Private Public, Hauser & Wirth, New York (2019).[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”104270″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]Adam Phillips

Phillips, formerly Principle Child Psychotherapist at Charing Cross Hospital, London, is a practising psychoanalyst and a visiting professor in the English department at the University of York. He is the author of numerous works of psychoanalysis and literary criticism, including most recently Unforbidden Pleasures, and Missing Out. He is General Editor of the Penguin Modern Classics Freud translations, and a Fellow of The Royal Society of Literature.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”104272″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]Kirsty Wark

Wark is one of Britain’s most experienced television journalists. She has presented a wide range of programmes including the BBC’s flagship nightly current affairs show Newsnight. She also hosted the weekly Arts and Cultural review and comment show, The Review Show (formerly Newsnight Review) for over a decade. She has conducted long form interviews with everyone from Margaret Thatcher to Madonna, Harold Pinter, Elton John, the musician Pete Doherty, Damian Hirst to George Clooney and the likes of Toni Morrison, Donna Tartt and Philip Roth. Her debut novel, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle, was published in March 2014 by Two Roads – an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton. She is currently writing her second novel.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Julia Farrington: “Art doesn’t divide society, it reveals division”


“Art doesn’t divide society, it reveals division,” said Julia Farrington, Index on Censorship’s associate arts producer, at a Risks, Rights & Reputations session at the Young Vic theatre in London on 15 November.

RRR is a training programme developed by Index, What Next? and Cause4 to help art and cultural leaders understand and challenge a risk-averse culture and incorporate these topics within their organisations.

The event kicked off with guests giving a three-worded description of what risk means to them. “Vulnerable”, “essential” and “unavoidable” were among the recurring submissions.

The discussion centred on freedom of expression and the police. Farrington talked about the artist Mimsy’s piece ISIS Threaten Sylvania, which satirically depicts Sylvanian families being terrorised by ISIS through the representation of children’s toys. The artwork was removed from the Passion for Freedom exhibition at London’s Mall Gallery in September 2015 after the artist was given an ultimatum to pay £36,000 for six nights of security protection or to take it down. His decision was clear.

Guidance from the College of Policing recommends artists to take precautionary steps before making a piece of controversial artwork public. First, an artist should seek the upper-most authority and explain their artwork beforehand to avoid cancellation. Then, they should communicate with the local police. There are other actions an artist can take in these situations like have lawyer involvement, but the most effective is to share the artwork in advance to authorities.

Speaking alongside Farrington were Diane Morgan, director of Nitrobeat, and Helen Jenkins, a consultant for Cause4. Morgan held a segment on how organisations can manage difficult subjects, including dialogue and engagement.

In the last segment, Jenkins, who has over 20 years experience in fundraising, talked about raising money ethically and the importance of a trustee’s duty to protect their organisation: if funding is coming from an unethical or compromising source, should the organisation reconsider accepting?

These three voices combined into one vital day of training for CEOs and trustees on navigating the rights and responsibilities of art and dealing the daunting, risky and time-consuming environment that comes with working with sensitive art.

Photographs by Leah Asmelash[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_media_grid grid_id=”vc_gid:1542885576234-b6a1fb2f-e5c5-7″ include=”103773,103772,103771,103760,103762,103763,103764,103769,103774,103768,103766,103765″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Risks, rights and reputations: challenging a risk averse culture

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Risks, Rights & Reputations (RRR) is a half-day training programme developed by Index on Censorship, What Next? and Cause4 to provide arts and cultural leaders with the guidance, inspiration, tools and resources to navigate the rights and responsibilities of producing challenging or socially sensitive work. 

Challenging a Risk Averse Culture

“In recent years there have been an increasing number of high-profile cases raising ethical and censorship issues around plays, exhibitions and other artworks. Censorship – and self-censorship – can stand in the way of great art. That’s why Arts Council England is committed to supporting those organisations who are taking creative risks. It’s important that organisations are aware of relevant legislation and the excellent guidance that exists. This programme is an important step in ensuring that our sector can continue to create vital, challenging, and risk-taking work.” – Sir Nick Serota, chair of Arts Council England

Navigating the rights and responsibilities of art that explores socially sensitive themes can appear daunting, risky and time-consuming. We have seen work cancelled or removed, because it was provocative or the funder controversial. But, for arts and culture to be relevant, dynamic and inclusive, we have to reinforce our capacity to respond to the most complex and provocative questions.

“This important and necessary project is a great opportunity to learn and discuss with others the increasing challenges we face in the arts sector, particularly in the context of socially engaged practise and public spaces.” – Mikey Martins, Artistic Director and Joint CEO, Freedom Festival Arts Trust

Session Content

The session addresses the challenges and opportunities related to artistic risk and freedom of expression. It aims to encourage participants to voice concerns and experiences within a supportive environment and programme of presentations, discussion and group work. By the end of day participants will:

  • Understand the legal and rights framework supporting artistic freedom in the UK;
  • Learn from analysis of recent controversies in the arts;
  • Gain confidence in decision-making and planning for potentially controversial work;
  • Manage expectations relating to the role of the police;
  • Discover the value of creating an ethical fundraising policy;
  • Benefit from access to new tools, resources and ongoing support from peers and experts beyond the session.


The session is open to artistic directors, CEOs, Senior management and trustees of arts organisations.

To date, RRR sessions have been delivered in Manchester, London and Bristol, with Arts Council national and regional offices and in partnership with the Freedom Festival Arts Trust, Hull.

“I feel more confident to speak up when talking to leaders about policy, process and practice when it comes to issues around artistic risk-taking / freedom of expression and ethical fundraising. I feel more empowered to be a useful, knowledgeable sounding board for the organisation’s I support than I did previously.” – Relationship Manager, Arts Council England[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row css=”.vc_custom_1510749691901{padding-top: -150px !important;}”][vc_column][vc_separator][vc_column_text]


We are currently accepting bookings from CEO/Artistic Directors, Chairs, individual Board Members and senior team members across the country for our upcoming RRR training sessions:[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/6″][vc_column_text]Date[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/6″][vc_column_text]ACE Region[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/6″][vc_column_text]Venue[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/6″][vc_column_text]Host[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/6″][vc_column_text]Trainers[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/6″][vc_column_text]Tickets[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/6″][vc_column_text]30 November 2018, 12:00 – 17:00 [/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/6″][vc_column_text]Northern Ireland[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/6″][vc_column_text]The Black Box[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/6″][vc_column_text]Belfast Festivals Forum[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/6″][vc_column_text]Julia Farrington, Index on Censorship;
Michelle Wright, Cause4
Diane Morgan, director Nitrobeat[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/6″][vc_column_text]From £25. Book tickets for the Black Box session.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator][vc_column_text]

The Team

“This was a really interesting, thought provoking, relevant and empowering session. I really appreciated the knowledge and the care taken to pull it together. Thank you!” – Participant – CEO

The RRR team consists of specialists and facilitators in freedom of expression, artistic risk and ethical fundraising alongside Artistic Director/CEO hosts who are committed to asking the difficult questions of our time:[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”103264″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Julia Farrington has specialised in artistic freedom, working at the intersection between arts, politics and social justice, since 2005. She was previously Head of Arts (at Index on Censorship (2009 – 2014) and continues her pioneering work on censorship and self-censorship as Associate Arts Producer. From 2014 – 2016, Julia was head of campaigns for Belarus Free Theatre. She now works freelance and is a member of International Arts Rights Advisors (IARA), facilitator for Arts Rights Justice Academy and Impact Producer for Doc Society, promoting documentary film as a powerful advocacy tool.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”103265″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Diane Morgan is the Director of nitroBEAT and a consultant/producer. She works in collaboration with artists, leaders and organisations to support (and merge) artistic risk taking and social engagement ideas, practices and approaches. Previous roles include; Project Manager for the Cultural Leadership Programme, Decibel lead for Arts Council West Midlands and Head of Projects at Contact Theatre, Manchester.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”103266″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Helen Jenkins is a consultant for Cause4, a social enterprise that supports charities, social enterprises and philanthropists to develop and raise vital funds across the arts, education and charity sectors. She has over 20 years experience of working across all fundraising disciplines in senior management and at Board level.  Helen has helped organisations nationally and internationally to achieve fundraising targets and retain their ethics within challenging financial climates.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

When: Friday 30 November 2018, 12:00–17:00
Where: The Black Box 18-22 Hill Street, Belfast, BT1 2LA
Tickets: £25 (or £15 members of Belfast Festivals Forum*), includes lunch & refreshments

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Booking Information


£45 for individuals from organisations with an annual turnover of over £500K.

£80 for two individuals from organisations with an annual turnover of over £500K

£25 for individuals from organisations with an annual turnover of over £250-500K

£40 for two individuals from organisations with an annual turnover £250-500K


Diversity and equality are essential to both the dialogue and learning around artistic risk-taking and for stronger a cultural sector. The programme is actively seeking to be fully representative of, reflect, and to meet the needs of the arts and cultural community across; gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion and class.

In order to respond to existing under-representation we are offering a limited number of bursaries to cover the training session fee for BAME and disabled CEO/Artistic Directors, Chairs, individual Board Members and Senior team members, and individuals from organisations with an annual turnover of under £250k who are currently living and working in England.

To apply for a bursary please write to: [email protected] with a short description of your organisation and why you would like to attend this session. Deadline: Friday 9 November.


We aim to provide an inclusive environment and will work with individual participants to make sure we can meet your access needs, such as providing support workers or British Sign Language interpreters or preparing programme materials in alternative formats. Our experienced facilitators aim to be as flexible as possible in order to make the programme work for your particular needs. For access queries please write to [email protected][/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Passion for Freedom: “There is always someone who wants to take freedom away”

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”97076″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Agnieszka Kolek is curator and co-founder of Passion for Freedom, an annual competition exhibition of by artists facing censorship worldwide. In February 2015, Kolek survived the terrorist attack in Copenhagen, targeting the panel discussion she appeared in alongside Swedish artist Lars Vilks. Later that year in London, the Passion for Freedom 2015 exhibition at Mall Galleries, London, hit the headlines when a work Isis Threaten Sylvania by Mimsy was removed by the curators on the advice of the police. They had no choice because they couldn’t pay the £36,000 demanded by the police to guarantee security of the exhibition.

JF: How does your experience of the Danish police compare to the British police?

AK: The panel discussion — Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Speech — was organised by the Lars Vilks Committee with the full support of the police. This was only a month after the Charlie Hebdo attack, but there was no question that the discussion should go ahead. There were two plain-clothed police officers, two uniformed police and then two special service officers responsible for Lars, who has 24-hour police protection. Police checked bags as the audience came in. When the attack happened — the Danish filmmaker Finn Nørgaard, one of the guests, was shot outside the venue and died on the pavement — the two special service officers took Lars to safety. We know that after an attack on freedom of speech the next target is Jews – it happened with Charlie Hebdo and it happened in Copenhagen when the same gunman attacked a bat mitzvah party in the evening, killing the security guard. Danes feel very bad that they didn’t anticipate this pattern and there was a lot of blaming of the police for this, but they did their best considering the circumstances. I think there has to be more legal power give to the police to extinguish the sources of the extremism, and its results. When you already have flames it is harder to put it, instead you have to prevent the fire from starting.

In London in 2015 it was very different. The police wanted to determine what artworks could go on show, and even the artistic value of exhibited works, showing an indirect form of censorship claiming it was “for your own good – security”. Police intelligence identified “serious concerns” regarding the “potentially inflammatory content” of Mimsy’s work and for this reason “advised” us to remove the work or pay protection money at £6,000 a day. We were completely shocked. Out of all the works in the exhibition, we would never have thought that they would pick this one out. We asked for more information about the “serious concerns”, especially because we wanted to know if there was a threat to Mimsy herself. They didn’t give us any more information. They wanted to place blame on the festival or its artists for causing problems, rather than protecting the space for art to show the suffering of people around the world and the lack of freedom to openly discuss it. While we tried to fundraise for our own protection, we were threatened with more works being withdrawn. Art cannot be controlled by the police – not in London, which for hundreds of years is a symbol of democracy and freedom. Not in the creative capital of Europe where artists flock from all over the world.

JF: But in Copenhagen two people lost their lives – you could have lost yours. How do you reconcile the loss of life with the pursuit of freedom?

AK: It is not easy to answer as I am not treating others’ and my own life lightly. Behind each individual there is a unique person, unique life story and to cut it short for the supposedly abstract ideal of free speech and expression might seem reckless. It is not. Again and again we learn how giving concessions to those who want to restrict freedoms of speech allows the darkness not only to enter our home but also our hearts. Not resisting it at early stages causes our societies to change beyond recognition.

I was invited to the Copenhagen event way ahead, so after the Charlie Hebdo attack, the chair got in touch with me to say she would understand in view of the heightened security risk, if I chose not to come. So I thought long and hard about it and said I will have to die someday, and I know I will look back at that this moment and I will remember the choice I made and it will be important.

Passion for Freedom is a very effective tool for assessing how much freedom there is in society. Artists cannot be easily controlled. In their inner core they are idealists. We stand with them giving them space and time to express themselves. Freedom will prevail despite political and corporate pressure to censor and restrict open debate. We are its guardians.

JF: How have the experiences of 2015 impacted on how you approach this year’s exhibition?

AK: The commitment and the conviction are still there. But we are not clear where we stand, because there is no clear definition of what is appropriate or what is inflammatory. It is a shifting ground. In the past, we created the space to fully exhibit work that had been censored elsewhere by a curator or a gallery owner. Now we are in the situation where the state, through the arm of the police, imposes this pre-emptive self-censorship on you. Since the censorship incident, we cannot guarantee artists that they will be able to exhibit/perform during a festival talking about freedom. Over the years there has been a number of artists who requested to be exhibited under pseudonyms (as often their lives are threatened in the UK or back in their home countries). Can we guarantee that the police will not arrest them? Until now, we could guarantee it to them. Since 2015 we are not sure that is the case. My approach is not to have any preconceived idea of how it will go with the police this time. We will still try to be open and have a dialogue in the belief that the police are still there to protect us and it is still a democratic country. I will be honest – we are also treating it as a kind of testing ground. Let’s see if this is still a democratic country or is it just on paper?

The artistic community in the United States and Australia is shocked by the police’s censorious attitude to arts in London. There are groups of people who decided to open Passion for Freedom branch offices in New York and Sydney to ensure that British censorship is being exposed. And in case freedom is completely extinguished in the UK they can continue the important work to give artists the platform to exhibit their works and debate important issues in our societies. And if we discover that there is even less freedom than in 2015, we are considering moving this exhibition to Poland because there is more freedom there. This is on the cards, we are already discussing it.

JF: Do you think Passion for Freedom exhibition represents a security risk?

AK: The way it is being framed in the media it looks like we are troublemakers and we are asking for it. I see it another way – we are representing the majority of society that wants to ask questions, to solve problems and to move forward together. Instead of giving in to a minority that wants to use violence and threats as a way to push forward their own agenda.  I think it is in the interests of any society to make sure there is the space for difficult conversations because it moves away from creating the situation where the only way to solve problems is violence. You need to allow people to have this space and art is a wonderful tool to do that, without falling for propaganda, or just favouring one way of looking at things over another.  Here you can have different voices, at different volumes, and different issues at play.

JF: The 2015 terror attack in Copenhagen targeted Swedish artist Lars Vilks and those who support him. Why do you think it is important for an artist to be free to deliberately insult and offend people’s religious beliefs? 

AK: The world is a much more complex place than the newspaper headlines would like us to believe. Lars Vilks was invited to participate in an art exhibition on the theme “The Dog in Art” that was to be held in the small town of Tällerud in Värmland. Vilks submitted three pen and ink drawings on A4 paper depicting Muhammad as a roundabout dog. At this time, Vilks was already participating with drawings of Muhammad in another exhibition in Vestfossen, Norway, on the theme “Oh, My God”. Vilks has stated that his original intention with the drawings was to “examine the political correctness within the boundaries of the art community”. It is not a secret that Sweden is known for vehemently criticising the United States and Israel, whereas political Islam and its influence on non-Muslim communities are rarely questioned.

Artists practising various forms of art, whether poetry, drama, drawing or film, have been challenging those who hold power for millennia.

Few kings, warlords or dictators allowed criticism or satire of themselves. The blasphemy laws were in place not to protect God but those who claimed to be his only representatives on earth. Nowadays, the same seems to be disguised in the cloak of hurt feelings and delicate egos. Artists are idealistic visionaries. They cannot hold themselves back pretending that they are blind to what is in front of their eyes. Lack of open discussion stifles our development as societies. Fear of reprisal and death cripples the human spirit. Those who cower under the whip hoping to appease and remove the threat are actually risking the fate of a slave and subordinating to dehumanised serfdom their true nature – that of a free man.

JF: Why do you have this passion for freedom?

AK: Behind the Iron Curtain we naively believed that not only was the West this Land of Milk and Honey of material goods, we were also certain that there was freedom here, that people would value and protect it. So moving here, first you discover that everything is not so perfect materially, but then the bigger eye-opener is that there is always someone who wants to take freedom away and if you don’t stand up tall in society this threat is always present. I don’t think you can continue just exercising freedom of speech without appreciating what it has brought to us over the long years when previous generations were fighting for it, and though it is not ideal, the state we are in is much better than it used to be.[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”103159″ img_size=”full”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]

Passion for Freedom Art Festival

10th-anniversary edition, 1 – 12 October 2018, London

The Royal Opera Arcade Gallery & La Galleria Pall Mall

Royal Opera Arcade, 5b Pall Mall, London SW1Y 4UY

The 10th-anniversary edition of internationally renowned Passion for Freedom Art Festival will open in London on 1 – 12 October 2018 at its new location – the Royal Opera Arcade Gallery & La Galleria Pall Mall. The exhibition showcases uncensored art from around the world, promoting human rights, highlighting injustice and celebrating artistic freedom.

Passion for Freedom was founded in 2008 and over the past ten years grew into an international network of artists, journalists, filmmakers and activists striving to celebrate and protect freedom of expression. We have displayed more than 600 artworks from 55 countries, including China, Iran and Venezuela.

The competition attracts much worldwide attention. This year, we received more than 200 submissions out of which we will exhibit over 50 shortlisted artists. From Venezuela to Turkey to the United Kingdom, those artists ceaselessly expose the restraints on freedom of speech, expression, and information in their countries. Altogether, we will display 100 such artworks during the festival. Passion for Freedom covers painting, photography, sculpture, performance, video, as well as authors, filmmakers and journalists.

Competitors will be judged by a prestigious selection panel. Winners will be announced on the 6th of October at the Gala Award Night.

This year’s judges are:

Andrew Stahl (United Kingdom)

Francisco Laranjo (Portugal)

Gary Hill (USA)

Lee Weinberg, PhD (Israel)

Mehdi-Georges Lahlou (Belgium)

Miriam Elia (United Kingdom)

Mychael Barratt PRE (Canada/United Kingdom)

This year we are thrilled to announce a Special Theo Van Gogh Award awarded in honour of his courage and contributions to freedom of expression.

Furthermore, we have invited a select group of special guest artists to display their latest works.

Passion for Freedom 2018 Guest Artists are:

Agata Strzalka (Poland)

Andreea Medar (Romania)

Emma Elliott (United Kingdom)

Jana Zimova (Czech Republic/Germany)

Mimsy (United Kingdom)

Öncü Hrant Gültekin (Turkey/Germany)

Oscar Olivares (Venezuela)

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