United Kingdom: Artwork removed from free speech exhibition

28 September 2015


In September 2015, ‘Isis Threaten Sylvania’, a series of seven satirical light box tableaux by the London-based artist Mimsy, was removed from the ‘Passion for Freedom’ exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London after police raised concerns about the “potentially inflammatory content” of the work.

The decision to remove the work from the exhibition came after the Mall Galleries consulted the police, who raised “a number of serious concerns regarding the potentially inflammatory content of Mimsy’s work”. The gallery cited a clause in the exhibition contract which allowed it the right to request removal of an artwork.

“This art is brave and witty. It deserves to be seen. To let fear of bigots and maniacs rule our art galleries is a betrayal of the civilisation we claim to uphold.”

“The fact they have been removed from an exhibition called ‘Passion for Freedom’ adds to the surrealism of a cowardly suppression of artistic free speech.”
Jonathan Jones, art critic, The Guardian

“Concerns over terror are being inflated to such an extent that perfectly legitimate, non-criminal expression, is being shut down across Britain: from university campuses, to theatre stages, to art galleries.”

“The upcoming extremism bill could worsen the situation further. In the case of the Sylvanian Families exhibit, we need to do more to ensure that police work with venues to promote freedom of expression, not stifle it.”
Jodie Ginsberg, CEO, Index on Censorship

‘Isis Threaten Sylvania’ had already been exhibited, and allegedly “enthusiastically received”, as part the Art15 art fair at London’s Royal College of Art in May 2015.

» Index on Censorship – 28 September 2015:
Index condemns removal of artwork from Passion for Freedom exhibition
“We need to do more to ensure that police work with venues to promote freedom of expression, not stifle it”

» Mall Galleries – Federation of British Artists:
Passion for Freedom (21-26 September 2015)
“The annual PASSION FOR FREEDOM Art Festival is a rare collection of international works of “courageous artists” who have answered three pivotal questions: What is freedom? How easy is it to lose it? How hard is it to get it back?”

» The Guardian – 26 September 2015:
Artwork showing Sylvanian Families terrorised by Isis banned from free speech exhibition
“Isis Threaten Sylvania by the artist Mimsy is removed from Passion for Freedom exhibition at London’s Mall Galleries, after police raise security concerns. Guardian critic Jonathan Jones reviews the artwork”

» The Independent – 26 September 2015:
Art show organisers remove work satirising Isis after policing costs soar
“Organisers of the Passion for Freedom exhibition were told it would cost an extra £36,000 to secure the venue if the ‘inflammatory’ work was included”

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