Update

Artist Alert: December 2012 - January 2013

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ARTICLE 19

07 Feb 2013

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Art, in any form, constitutes a key medium through which information and ideas are imparted and received. Artist Alert, launched by ARTICLE 19 in 2008, highlights cases of artists around the world whose right to freedom of expression has been curtailed and abused, and seeks to more effectively promote and defend freedom to create.

AMERICAS

BRAZIL REMOVES '50 SHADES OF GREY' 

A judge in Rio de Janeiro ordered the removal of the erotic trilogy ’50 Shades of Grey’ from bookstores on … January as its content was deemed “inappropriate” for children. The judge issued the order after he allegedly saw children browsing through the book. 

Bookstores reportedly removed the ‘Grey’ series along with another 64 books regarded as ‘improper’ and to prevent children from looking through them.  

REGGAETON MUSIC NOT ALLOWED IN CUBA 

The Cuban Music Institute, the authority in charge of preserving traditional music in the country prohibited reggaeton music on 4 December in the island for being “vulgar, mediocre and banal” and a threat to “proper” music.

Orlando Vistel, head of the Institute said reggaeton (a blend of reggae in Spanish, Jamaican dance-hall and hip-hop) is a “pseudo‑artistic work” and that “it has nothing to do with Cuban cultural policies”.

Musicians who play reggaeton could be left out of official music lists and TV and radio stations are also being forced to drop reggeaton off their programming. 

EUROPE / CENTRAL ASIA

MALTA: BANNING OF THEATRE PLAY UPHELD BY HIGHEST COURT 

The Maltese Constitutional Court of Appeal upheld on 30 November the ban on the play ‘Stitching,’ by the Scottish author Anthony Neilson.

The court said the play could be deemed as blasphemous as one of its actors says "Jesus fucking Christ, and that was “disrespectful with Auschwitz victims” making reference to a character that implies he masturbated in a concentration camp. The play discusses abortion through the story of an unwanted pregnancy.

The producers of the play have said that they will take their case to the European Court of Human Rights, as the ban violates their right to freedom of expression.

ONLINE: APPLE REMOVES EROTIC NOVEL FROM ITUNES STORE 

The erotic novel “The Proof of Honey” by Syrian author Salwa Al Neimi was removed from Apple iTunes store on 15 November, as its cover was considered “inappropriate” for showing parts of a woman’s naked back and bottom. The book explores the role of sex in modern Arab society through narrating the erotic adventures of a Syrian intellectual in Paris, and has been banned in a number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

The removal comes after the censoring of Naomi Wolf’s book ‘Vagina’, a feminist study of female anatomy that explores the use of the word “vagina”. The title was deemed “too explicit” by Apple and the book was also removed from iTunes store in August 2012.

POLAND: BELARUSIAN EXHIBITION CENSORED

 Pictures satirising Stalin, Lenin and other USSR leaders at the “Zabor” exhibition, a joint Polish-Belarusian art project shown in Warsaw, were deemed “inappropriate” and removed by the sponsoring Belarusian embassy on 6 November.  The exhibition had already been shown without the satirical paintings in Minsk in July 2012 and was going to be expanded further to the UK.

The Belarusian ambassador in Poland said that nine of the paintings were removed because they were “obviously inappropriate” and had not been “agreed” with the Belarusian Cultural Centre in Warsaw.

RUSSIA: PUSSY RIOT 'PUNK PRAYER' VIDEO BLOCKED 

A court in Moscow court blocked on29 November internet videos made by the band Pussy Riot.

Among the material was the video for the band’s famous 'punk prayer,' which featured footage of some members of the group staging a protesting in Moscow's Christ the Saviour's Cathedral.

RUSSIA: EXHIBITION INVESTIGATED FOR 'BLAPSHEMOUS' CONTENT 

St Petersburg prosecutors warned the Hermitage museum for hosting an exhibition deemed offensive to religious beliefs using Soviet-era legislation.

The art exhibit “End of Fun” by British artists Jake and Dinos Chapman features glass boxes full of figurines depicting different scenes in ’hell’: including depictions of violence, a Nazi insignia and a crucified Ronald McDonald.

The prosecutors said they had received more than 100 complaints from visitors who felt their orthodox beliefs had been insulted.

The authorities announced that the exhibition was under investigation for violating the “extremism” law.

TURKEY: TV CHANNEL FINED AFTER AIRING 'BLASPHEMOUS' SIMPSONS EPISODE

A TV channel in Turkey was fined on 4 December for ‘offending religious values’ after broadcasting an episode of the US animation, The Simpsons.

During the episode, God was shown to be taking orders from the devil. 

The Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTUK) deemed the episode “blasphemous” and fined CNBC-e almost 30,000 USD. CNBC-e has aired The Simpsons for almost 10 years.

 ASIA

AFGHANISTAN: FIRST FEMALE RAPPER RECEIVES DEATH THREATS

A female rapper in Afghanistan was sent death threats to her mobile phone on 2 December after releasing her first single “Our Neighbours” on YouTube.

Sosan Firooz, 23, raps about the repression of women in the country and her desire for a peaceful Afghanistan.

“Many [Afghan] female musicians have stopped performing after receiving threats from Taliban”, she said

The artist says she will keep defying social norms in Afghanistan, where she usually performs wearing western clothes in front of men.

CHINA: JAMES BOND'S SKYFALL CENSORED

The most recent James Bond movie finally opened in China on 21 January, two months after hitting screens elsewhere in the world. Key scenes had to be censored as dictated by the Chinese censor board.

The scene where Bond kills a security guard in Shanghai was taken off the film. The subtitles were also subject to censorship and all references to torture were modified.

The Chinese censor board regularly censors foreign films that are deemed morally inappropriate, politically loaded or offensive. 

CHINA: AMERICAN FILM CENSORED

The Hollywood production ‘Cloud Atlas’ was censored by the state for its Chinese release on 31 January. The film tells six different stories from different eras that develop in Korea under a totalitarian corporate culture, , featuring scenes of strong violence and a same-sex relationship. The film is based on the novel Cloud Atlas by British author David Mitchell.

The Chinese censor board cut almost 40 minutes of homosexual and straight sex from the film. The film’s three directors - Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer - were not involved in the board’s editing.

WARHOL'S MAO PAINTING EXCLUDED FROM CHINESE EXHIBITION

An Andy Warhol’s exhibition due to be presented in China this year had to exclude ten Mao paintings and acrylics as they were deemed “politically sensitive” by the Chinese Ministry of Culture.

The ‘Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal’ exhibition marks the 25th anniversary of the American artist's death. His Mao paintings were inspired in US president Richard Nixon visit to China in 1972.

MYANMAR BANS STREET ART

Officials in Yangon banned street art on 3 December, prohibiting anyone from drawing on public buildings, roads and bridges.

Recent reforms in the country led to a growth in graffiti art in the city.

Street artists have said the measure did not come as a surprise and viewed the authorities’ action as copying regulations from neighbouring countries. They have asked the authorities to provide proper spaces for artistic expression.

NEPAL: ARMY TRIES TO STOP FILM EXAMINING TORTURE 

A screening of the upcoming film Badshala was stopped on 27 January by the Ministry of Information after the Ministry of Defence complained that the film uses army uniform in the movie “without permission”.

The film tells the story of the Maoist insurgency in the country and depicts torture inflicted by army soldiers.

The Minister of Defence stated in a public letter that "the film was produced without informing the concerned bodies, (and) the ministry has been requested not to provide permission for screening the movie and to stop the screening even if the theatres have been given permission."

The film director is proceeding in his application to the Nepali Cinema Development Board for certification for the film so that it can be released publicly.

THAI COMEDIAN JAILED

A criminal court in Thailand convicted a journalist, comedian and human rights activist to 11 years in prison for “insulting” the King.

Somyot Prueksakasemsuk was arrested in 2011 for publishing two articles (written by someone else) and launching a petition to revise the lèse-majesté law.

Under Article 112 of Thailand’s Penal Code, a lèse-majesté violation carries a maximum of fifteen years imprisonment for those found guilty of defaming, insulting or threatening the King and his family.

MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

EGYPT BANS 'ROMANTIC' AND 'SARCASTIC' SONGS FROM STATE-RUN MEDIA 

Egypt announced on 13 December a ban on the playing of romantic music on 23 state-owned media outlets. The authorities said that only “nationalistic” and “patriotic” tunes that are “worth” broadcasting should be played.

The move came amid political polarisation following President Morsi’s announcement of a referendum on the new constitution, which triggered political tensions in the country.

Lyrics which were deemed “sarcastic” or mocking to political figures were also banned because of the “sensitiveness of the political situation”.   

EGYPT: COMEDIAN INVESTIGATED FOR MOCKING PRESIDENT

The comedian Dr Bassem Youssef, who became famous for impersonating several public figures in the wake of the February 2011 uprising, was accused on 2 January of “insulting the president” in his television show. 

Youseff impersonated president Morsi as a pharaoh and called him “Super Morsi” - for his power over the parliament and the judiciary.

The satirist rose to fame after parodying politicians, TV presenters and Islamic scholars on YouTube videos following the uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s rule.  Dr Youseff’s show became so popular it began to be broadcasted three times a week in national television.

EGYPT: FEMALE ANTI-ISLAM CARTOONIST VEOTED FROM EXHBITION 

The cartoonist Samah Farouk’s work was removed  from the annual exhibition of the Sawy Culturewheel on 8 January as it was deemed deemed politically loaded and critical of the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi.

Farouk complained that the refusal to showcase her cartoons was politically motivated as the news of the ban came amid discussions about the approval of Egypt’s new constitution. 

To protest the decision, Farouk and other cartoonists painted graffiti and hung banners outside the gallery.

QATAR: POET SENTENCED FOR LIFE

A poet, Muhammad Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami was sentenced to life imprisonment by a court in Qatar on 29 November for writing a poem about the “Arab Spring”, which was regarded as “insulting” to the emir of Qatar and to be advocating for the overthrow of the state’s governing system.  

Ajami was jailed in 2011 when he recited a poem praising Tunisia’s popular unrest and criticising governments that restrict freedoms in the Gulf region. The poem said: "We are all Tunisia in the face of repressive".

TUNISIA: STREET ARTISTS FACING TRIAL 

Two students were arrested on … November and are awaiting trial for writing on a wall: “the people want rights for the poor”. Oussama Bouagila and Chahine Berriche are part of the "Zwewla" group of street artists, famous for their support to marginalised groups in south Tunisia.

Bouagila and Berriche were released pending trial, which has now been postponed until March 2013. Both men face charges of “writing, without permission, on public property”, “breaching the state of emergency” and “publishing fake news that could disturb public order”.

AFRICA

CAMEROONIAN WRITER SENTENCED

The writer and actor Enoh Meyomesse was sentenced to seven years in prison on 3 January for “complicity in the theft and illegal sale of gold”. Campaigners have raised serious concerns that Meyomesse’s detention is politically motivated due to his writing.

Meyomesse is author of several books, founder of the Cameroon Writers Association and a political activist. He ran for Presidential elections in 2011 with the opposition party United National Front (UNF). His books are mainly poems and essays about political affairs and culture.

Meyomesse has already spent more than a year in prison after being convicted for attempting to organise a coup, possessing a firearm and aggravated theft.

NAMIBIA: ENVIRONMENTALIST EXHIBITION CANCELLED 

An exhibition seeking to raise awareness about the environmental threats that mining activities pose along the Namibian coast, was deemed “politically loaded” and cancelled by the Woermannhaus Gallery in  Swakopmund, north-western Namibia on 25 November.  Artist Imke Rust was sent a letter by the gallery curator explaining that the exhibition was cancelled as it was part of an “irrelevant and scientifically dubious” campaign against the mining business in the country.

The art work was a multi-media creation inviting visitors to experience the consequences of environmental damage and the complexities of development works in the area.  

Rust said: “I just think that it is questionable and alarming if a membership-based arts association rejects the work of an artist, just because it actually addresses current issues, ignoring the artistic merit, quality, relevance, the artist's 'track record', or the needs of the public to be exposed to contemporary art and be able to purchase it.”