Artist Alert: June 2014

Artist Alert: June 2014 - Civic Space

A man surrounded by paintings he is selling from his stall at the Bazaar of Tabriz.

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 promote and defend more effectively the freedom to create.


Comoro Islands: Rapper arrested for insulting president

5 June: One of the most popular rappers in the Comoro Islands, MC Cheikh, was arrested and detained for 24 hours for insulting the president. He was accused of tagging a wall and holding up a sign saying that President “Ikilou hates us”. 


USA: YouTube to censor independent artists refusing deal for new subscription service

17 June: It was reported that YouTube intends to block the videos of independent artists who refuse to sign a new deal for a music subscription service. The new paid subscription service will allow ad-free videos and offline playback.

While all the large music labels have already signed the deal, certain independent artists have refused to sign, citing unfavourable terms for independent artists.

YouTube has officially stated that it needs to block videos on the free service as they would not be available on the paid service and this would be unfair to their paying customers.

However, many are accusing YouTube of bullying independent artists into signing a deal with unfavourable terms.  Artists such as Adele, Radiohead and Arctic Monkeys could be affected by the dispute.

Asia Pacific

Myanmar: Adult fiction novel recalled after author receives government threat

25 June: Adult fiction novel The World of Romancebots by Aung Yin Nyein was recalled by its publishers Pinlae Thit Literature Group. The novel had received negative reviews because of its obscenity.

The recall was the result of a “strong recommendation” from the government’s scrutiny department. The publishers reported that the author had received a phone call from the government and that they were recalling the novel based on the content of that call.

The government has stated that the publishers could face legal action as Myanmar’s penal code forbids obscene literature.

China: Artist/activist’s name removed from exhibition press release

2 June: The artist and activist Ai Weiwei removed his work from an exhibition in protest after his name was not included in the list of participating artists on the exhibition’s press release.

Ai has accused the organisers on social media of self-censoring. He has released a transcript of a conversation with the organisers, which indicates that they decided to remove his name because they were being threatened.

This is not the first time the artist’s name has been removed from an exhibition. In April his name and works were removed from an exhibition about the history of Chinese contemporary art, reportedly due to pressure from local officials.

Ai has said that he believes his work is targeted because of his criticism of the government.

China: Ukrainian artist banned from art festival on political grounds

10 June: Ukrainian artist Nikita Kadan‘s work was banned from the 3rd Annual Xinjiang Biennale despite an invitation to him to display his work there.

The piece in question, Procedure Room, highlights the use of torture by the Ukrainian police. The organisers pulled the piece after an official from the local Xinjiang government took issue with its political nature.

China: Hillary Clinton’s memoir effectively banned

27 June: Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s memoir, Hard Choices, will not be available for sale in either Mandarin or English in Mainland China after publishers refused to distribute the book.

Simon and Schuster, the book’s publishers, claimed that Chinese businesses were unwilling to face the wrath of the Chinese government by printing or selling the book. The book is highly critical of the Chinese government and its censorship policies.

South Korea: Artist found not guilty of violating election law

12 June:  The Supreme Court found artist Lee Ha not guilty of violating election law after a two-year court case. The artist had been prosecuted after the Election Administration Committee ruled that his pictures could affect election results.

Known for his satirical drawings of politicians, Lee Ha distributed his drawings in public places in the run-up to the Presidential election in summer 2012. One drawing showed the then-presidential candidate Park Geun-Hye wearing Snow White’s dress and holding a poisoned apple. The face of the candidate’s father, former President Park Chung-hee, was on the apple.

Although Lee Ha was found not guilty in this case, he still faces charges of violating advertising law.

Europe & Central Asia

France: Censorship dispute leads to cancellation of French art festival

23 June: The 13th Festival International d’Art Singulier in Aubagne, France, was cancelled after a dispute over the censoring of two works of art that were due to be displayed at the festival.

The organisers called off the event after the municipal government stepped in over two art pieces, Marie Morel’s L’Amour and Demin’s Birthing Machine, which the mayor’s office deemed “pornographic”.

The scandal took a political tone after the mayor’s office suggested that the artists were deliberately provoking the newly-elected mayor of the right-leaning UMP party. It noted that many people were unhappy that a UMP mayor was elected in a town that was previously a Communist party stronghold.

France: Mural covered after being labelled “pornographic” by new mayor

30 June: A mural created by artist Jérôme Galvin for the refurbishment of a ceramics museum in the small village of Moustiers Sainte-Marie in France was deemed “pornographic” by the new mayor. The mayor ordered it to be covered with plasterboard to prevent its being seen, even though it had been initiated and approved by the previous mayor.

Galvin took particular exception to the fact that he had spent time ensuring that the piece was approved by the town hall. He noted the irony of the mural being situated in a room purposefully dedicated to grotesque ceramics.

UK: Eminem rejected from festival line-up due to offensive lyrics

26 June: US rap star Eminem was prevented from performing at the British Summer Time Festival in Hyde Park after his lyrics were deemed offensive by the manager of the Royal Parks.

Despite being recruited by the promoter AGM to play at the event, Eminem was informed that he would not be able to take part due to the risk that his “offensive lyrics” might upset park users or nearby residents.

Middle East & North Africa

Egypt: Fears for safety lead Bassem Youssef to cancel hit satire

2 June: Popular Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef announced the permanent cancellation of his hit satire show Al-Bernameg just after General Fattah El-Sisi won the presidential elections. He cited extreme pressure on himself, his family and his crew.

MBC Misr, the Saudi-owned channel that hosted the show, had announced in April that the programme would be temporarily suspended during the run-up to the presidential election to avoid influencing public opinion.

Youssef, known to emulate the political satire style of US comedian Jon Stewart, has faced over 30 legal investigations in the past year for charges such as insulting the president and Islam. Networks that broadcast Al-Bernameg have had their signal repeatedly jammed.

Youssef stated that he was pleased to be ending the show while it still had artistic integrity, instead of bowing to the pressure of censors.

Egypt: Band banned from performing

20 June: Egyptian security forces prevented the Egyptian band Kuta Hamra (Red Tomato) from performing several times in one day.

The band, known for performing in streets and squares, set up to play in several outdoor locations but was harassed and moved on from each location by security forces.

The band was later given approval to perform in a school, but again security services appeared and threatened the band with arrest when they attempted to perform.

The situation is indicative of the increasingly punitive creative atmosphere in Egypt. Musicians and street performers are finding it more difficult to perform now if their music is deemed political.