Artist Alert: May 2014

Artist Alert: May 2014 - Civic Space

Paint brushes and a palate inside the arts class at Wormwood Scrubs prison in west London.

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. 


Nigeria: Musician freed following arrest for anti-president song

10 May: Kano musician Dauda Kahutu Rarara was released after his arrest in April over a song he composed about President Goodluck Jonathan.

Rarara’s song criticised President Jonathan for campaigning and dancing instead of mourning following the April 2014 Abuja bombing in which 88 people were killed. Rarara has since said that he does not regret his actions and plans to release more songs targeting the political party “the All Progressives Congress” in the near future.

Senegal: LGBT art exhibition at Dak’Art 2014 shut down under pressure from extremist groups

31 May: Precarious Imaging: Visibility and Media Surrounding African Queerness, one of the first art exhibitions across Africa to directly deal with homosexuality, was closed after extremist groups attacked the Dakar gallery where it was being shown.

Rather than supporting the beleaguered gallery owners, authorities at the 11th Biennale of Contemporary African Art (Dak’Art 2014) allegedly removed all artworks referring to homosexuality from installations across Dakar.

Tanzania: New policy to pre-screen music and films announced

22 May: Tanzania’s Ministry of Information, Youth, Culture and Sports has announced that, starting this week, it will begin censoring music and films via the Tanzania Film Censorship Board. Any films and music that have not been approved and do not have the right documentation will be banned from sale in Tanzania.

Zimbabwe: South African band refused entry because of anti-Mugabe song

4 May: The South African pop band Freshlyground was denied entry into Zimbabwe and was therefore prevented from performing as scheduled at the Harare International Arts Festival. The group was turned away immediately on arrival at Harare International Airport.

The authorities claimed that the group did not have valid work permits, an issue which it is thought was linked to their 2010 song, Chicken for Change. The song mocked Mugabe for being afraid to step down from power.

Directly after this incident, the group suffered a similar problem when their visas for a forthcoming tour were revoked.


USA: Sexual assault survivor’s artwork on rape culture censored

12 May: Gracie Holtzclaw, a teenage survivor of sexual assault, had her art piece on rape culture pulled from the county-wide Greenville County Schools Art Exhibition. The piece was removed two days before the opening due to its “graphic content”.

The piece, Rape Culture, featured a tattooed woman with her breasts censored. It was intended to be a commentary on the way in which survivors of rape and sexual assault are often blamed for their own assaults.

The school issued a statement defending their decision, arguing that the exhibition was intended to be a family event and the artwork was inappropriate for small children.

Critics of the decision have highlighted that sexual assault is a common experience among school-age girls and the artwork therefore raises issues that are important for teenagers to discuss.

USA: South Carolina legislature attempts to pull funding from college courses teaching LGBT literature

13 May: After nearly a week of debate, the South Carolina state legislature has decided not to initiate punitive budget cuts for universities teaching literature courses including LGBT themes. The universities will, however, be required to use the funds for courses about the United States Constitution.

The move has been criticised by many writers and authors, including Richard Ford and Junot Díaz, for amounting to censorship and meddling in academic affairs.

The measures, which were proposed in March, would have seen $52,000 withheld from the College of Charleston and $17,142 from the University of South Carolina Upstate. The cuts were proposed because the universities had assigned Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and the anthology Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio as required reading for their students.

Asia Pacific

China: Artist Lee Wen beaten during art forum in Hong Kong

17 May: Singaporean artist Lee Wen was found beaten and bleeding in a bathroom after speaking at an art forum at City University in Hong Kong.

While it was initially thought that Lee Wen, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, may have simply fallen over, it is now thought that he was beaten and left bleeding.

No suspects have been identified, but the attack is suspicious as it followed Lee Wen’s speech criticising censorship in Mainland China. He talked about the arrest of a former soldier who had commemorated the Tiananmen Square protests in a performance piece.

Discussions about the Tiananmen Square protests are heavily censored in China.

China: Popular Tibetan singer arrested after concert promoting Tibetan language and culture

24 May: Popular Tibetan singer Gepey was arrested after performing at a concert promoting the use of the Tibetan language and culture.

After the concert ended, Chinese police officers arrested Gepey without specifying any reason for his arrest.

At the time of reporting no information was available regarding his whereabouts.

Europe & Central Asia

Russia: President Putin bans swearing in the arts

5 May: Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed new legislation that bans the use of swear words in Russian books, films, music and other arts.

The ban, which comes one year after President Putin banned swearing in the media, will suppress many classical and modern works of art that contain swear words.

Organisations which break the law will be fined the equivalent of US $1400 while individuals will receive fines of US $70. Those who repeatedly break the law could receive higher fines or a suspension of their business activities for three months.

Critically, swear words have not been listed or defined in the new law, leaving what can be labelled a swear word open to interpretation. A panel of experts will judge offending words with the goal of “protecting and developing language culture.”

Russia: Parade in honour of Eurovision winner banned

16 May: A parade to honour recent Eurovision Song Contest winner Conchita Wurst was banned by the Russian authorities on the grounds that it represented a security risk.

Transgender Conchita Wurst’s Eurovision win was seen as a positive step for LGBT arts, but her victory cannot be publically celebrated by Eurovision fans and LGBT advocates in Russia.

This ban recalls previous bans on Gay Pride parades in Russia, where ‘propaganda’ laws prevent the dissemination of information about homosexuality.

Middle East & North Africa

Morocco: Revolutionary rapper El Haqed re-arrested

18 May: Mouad Belghouat, better known as rapper El Haqed, was arrested in Casablanca. Arrested on his way to a football match, he is accused of public drunkenness and assaulting a police officer.

El Haqed is well-known for his dissident political views and is seen as a leader of the pro-democracy February 20 movement in Morocco.

El Haqed has continually been harassed by the authorities for his political stance. This is his third arrest since he came to fame.