Egypt’s art world rallies to defend freedom of expression

27 January 2013

Artists, curators, critics and academics have united against president Mohamed Morsi and his controversial new constitution, which they say threatens freedom of expression and creativity. An arts forum has been closed. A cartoonist has been taken to court, reported The Art Newspaper.

Keizer artwork

In December 2012, Yasser Borhami, a member of the Al-Nour party, praised the new constitution for placing “restrictions on freedom of thought, expression and creativity”.

Among artists, resistance against the new charter is increasing — through mass protests, works of art in the street, open letters and artists’ statements. Cultural coalitions have also been growing in number.

Already there have been a number of cultural casualties as a result of political tensions. The Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum, a non-profit art space, closed in January amid the “heightened political and social transitions”.

A report by York University for the British Council published in December warned that increasing violence and a lack of political vision is stifling creativity in Egypt.

Legal cases are on the rise too: the secretary-general of the National Centre for Defence of Freedoms is suing the Egyptian cartoonist Doaa El-Adl for her allegedly blasphemous depiction of Adam and Eve in the newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm. In her cartoon, El-Adl depicts Adam and Eve being told off by an Egyptian angel for not voting in favour of the referendum on the new constitution.

‘Long Live Free Art’
The rallying-call title of an exhibition that closed in Cairo on 15 January 2013, ‘Long Live Free Art’, succinctly expressed the Egyptian art world’s growing resistance to the new constitution. ‘Long Live Free Art’ displayed artwork in resistance to President Morsi’s new constitution. Here, artists talk about the future of art in Egypt and the cultural coalitions being formed in response to the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The new constitution puts religion above the law and civil society,” says Fatenn Mostafa, the founder of the Cairo-based foundation Art Talks Egypt and the curator of the exhibition ‘Long Live Free Art’. “The fear is that the Muslim Brotherhood will specify what is allowed and what is not allowed in art. The moment you put regulations on art, you kill it.”

‘Long Live Free Art’, which was conceived in opposition to the clampdown on free speech and includes works by nine artists including Keizer, Moataz Nasr and Yasser Nabaiel, takes its cue from the 1939 manifesto of the Art & Freedom Group. Founded by the Egyptian poet George Henein, the revolutionary group of artists and intellectuals was committed to the freedom of creative expression in the face of traditionalism, state-regulated art and censorship.

“Art as a means of resistance is just as crucial today,” Fatenn Mostafa was quoted as saying.

Keizer is a street artist based in Cairo, who has created several text-based works in response to the constitution, including ‘Art is Not Forbidden’ and ‘Morsy Beaucoup’, a satirical poke at the president. He told The Art Newspaper:

“[The Muslim Brotherhood] has yet to really discover the art world, but when it does, it will clamp down. We have already had statements in the media from sheikhs saying that all art made in the past 20 to 30 years will be abolished.”

Despite the increased risk of arrest, Keizer said he and his fellow street artists will not be silenced:

“We are being propelled more and more to go out in the street and make art.”

Read the article in full

The Art Newspaper – 24 January 2013:
Egypt’s art world rallies to defend freedom of expression
Artists, curators, critics and academics fear new constitution threatens censorship of the arts and culture. By Anny Shaw

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