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France: Institutional censorship of art to guard ‘cultural neutrality’

25 September 2012

“When my voice gets silenced, my rights are affected. When a cultural institution cannot uphold the rights and freedom of intellectual artistic expression of the artists they select to exhibit, it is inexcusable,” wrote the artist Sundus Abdul Hadi in response to the removal of her art piece at an exhibition Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris.

Iraqi-born artist Sundus Abdul-Hadi had been selected to participate in an exhibition entitled ‘Le Corps Decouvert’ – translated as ‘The Body Uncovered’ – at Institut du Monde Arabe with one of her more controversial paintings, ‘Inanna in Damascus’, touching on the issue of prostitution amongst female Iraqi refugees. However, days after the opening of the exhibit in Paris, the institute removed Abdul Hadi’s painting – and did not even inform the artist about it.

The exhibition opened on 27 March 2012 and was to close on 16 July, but was extended to 26 August 2012.

“Management has expressed serious reservations about the political contents of the painting which may not conform to their neutrality policy,” sounded the explanation.

“This is censorship in its ugliest form – truth silenced beneath the guise of ‘cultural neutrality’. Staging a protest against art deemed offensive is within the limits of freedom of expression, however, censoring and removing an art piece deemed ‘too political’ is not. (…)

Following headlines covering censored exhibits, almost all of them feature the same story of offended Muslim groups bullying such and such gallery to remove ‘offensive’ art. While this is shocking and in most cases unjustified, the truly subversive art that questions the status quo is simply rejected or quietly censored by the mainstream without fuss or fanfare,” wrote Megan Beneat Donald in her blog post commentary.

She also mentioned the incident at the SaLon Gallery in west London where windows and doors were smashed after a series of abusive, anonymous phone calls and angry protests from Muslims about the gallery’s exhibition of images of veiled Muslims, including a bare-breasted woman partially clad in a burqa.

Megan Beneat Donald – 7 September 2012:
The True Art of Censorship

The Independent – 30 October 2008:
Gallery attacked over ‘insulting’ artworks

Institut du Monde Arabe – August 2012:
Le corps découvert

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