Poland: Art exhibition sparks accusations of antisemitism and other bigotries
An exhibition called "Political Art" has opened in Warsaw, Poland presenting the works of 30 provocative artists. Organizers are calling the new exhibit at the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art in the capital a celebration of freedom of speech and a challenge to political correctness.
The Associated Press (AP) reports some critics have accused the curators of creating a platform for antisemitic, Islamophobic and racist messages under the pretext of defending democratic values such as freedom of speech. The most controversial artist featured is Dan Park, a Swedish provocateur who has been imprisoned for hate speech more than once in his home country.
In 2009, for example, Park installed a Nazi swastika and a box inscribed "Zyklon B", a reference to the gas used in the mass murder of Jewish people during the Holocaust, in front of a Jewish Community Center in Malmö. Rabbis and other Jewish representatives in Poland have been sharply protesting against the decision by the organizers of the Warsaw exhibit to include Park's works.
In an open letter to the director of the Centre, the Jewish representatives wrote that promoting such artists insults everybody in the country because six million citizens of Poland alone were murdered during the Second World War. "Freedom of speech is essential to a democratic society, but it has its limits. If you are attempting to inspire somebody to harm others, that is the line. This art urges the harming of others," head Polish Rabbi Michael Joseph Schudrich told the AP.
Among the pieces by Park on exhibit in Warsaw is, for example, a poster presenting the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik as a Lacoste model. Ten years ago that right-wing extremist murdered 77 people in Norway, 69 of whom were attending a camp for young people on the island of Utöya.
Another controversial figure connected with the exhibition is Uwe Max Jensen of Denmark, who is known for his ultra-right opinions and whose performances have included defecating or urinating on objects. His Warsaw contribution is a flag on which smaller flags symbolizing sexual minorities have been arranged into the form of a Nazi swastika.
Jensen told the AP on 31 August that administrators of the Facebook social media platform have removed photographs of the work and that he does not know whether it will eventually be included in the exhibition or not. The Anti-Fascist Year initiative in Poland is also criticizing the exhibition and accusing curators of abusing democratic principles to "disseminate and justify hateful speech".
The Centre for Contemporary Art claims the exhibition is creating a space for rebellious artists who have been repeatedly rejected elsewhere. Jon Eirik Lundberg, one of the curators, also denies the allegation that the exhibition promotes racism.
The aim of the exhibition, in Lundberg's view, is to defend democracy and fight for freedom of speech. "If you don't have freedom of speech, you don't have political freedom. If you don't have political freedom, you have no protection. The best way to protect any minority is to guarantee the freedom of speech," Lundberg has opined.
The "Political Art" exhibition is the second exhibition to be held at the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art under the leadership of director Piotr Bernatowicz, who was appointed in 2019 by the conservative nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party in Poland. Since coming to power in 2015, the party has used the cultural insitutitions in the country to promote conservative and nationalist values, including the Centre for Contemporary Art, which has presented avant-garde, experimental art in the capital since the 1930s, the AP reports.
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