A piece of satirical artwork mocking the Islamic State (IS) has been removed from a free speech event in London, after police warned it was “inflammatory.”
The Syrian-born Jewish artist behind the work said she created it to challenge the idea that tackling extremism is somehow “racist” and spoke of the “threat to… freedom” posed by “Islamic fascism” after her art was censored.
The name of the work is Isis Threaten Sylvania. It consists of a series of seven models in light boxes, depicting scenes reminiscent of recent terrorist attacks. The model featuring children’s soft toys called the Sylvanian Families, who are being stalked by other heavily armed soft toys called “MICE IS.”
However, the work was removed from the Passion for Freedom exhibition at the Mall galleries in London after police raised concerns about its “potentially inflammatory content,” The Guardian explained in a review of the work.
The police then informed the organisers that, if they wanted to go ahead and display the art as planned, they would have to pay £36,000 for security for the entire six-days of the show.
The censorship echoes the cancellation of the “Draw Mohammed UK” competition in August, which was supposed to take place in a gallery in London, after pressure from security service.
The Passion For Freedom Festival claims to “create space for artists and writers who discuss subjects omitted in politically correct circles,” on their website, and to “invite people to open and uninhibited discussion.
“Nothing is more important than critically informed debate,” they say.
The organizers of the not-for-profit festival did not make the decision to censor the work. Rather, the gallery hosting them decided to call in the police – just like with the Draw Muhammad completion.
A festival spokesman said: “To our shock the highlighted work was humorously mocking the despised terrorist organisation that causes suffering to many, not only in the Middle East, but also here, in Europe and the America.”
He explained that, in light of the censorship, the word “uncensored” had been removed from all of the show’s publicity.
The catalogue note for the “inflammatory” work reads: “Far away, in the land of Sylvania, rabbits, foxes, hedgehogs, mice and all woodland animals have overcome their differences to live in harmonious peace and tranquillity. Until Now.”
Adding: “MICE-IS, a fundamentalist Islamic terror group, are threatening to dominate Sylvania, and annihilate every species that does not submit to their hardline version of sharia law.”
The artists behind the work uses a pseudonym, Mimsy, which she says she was forced to adopt because her background puts her in constant danger when speaking out – her farther is a Syrian Jew, who was forced into exile in Lebanon when she was a child.
“I love my freedom,” said Mimsy. “I’m aware of the very real threat to that freedom from Islamic fascism and I’m not going to pander to them or justify it like many people on the left are doing.”
She explained that the idea of using soft toys had “just popped into my head” as a way of demonstrating that extremism and ideology – ideas – are not questions of race or racism.
“I’m sick and tired of people calling criticism of fanatical Islam racist, because racism is about your skin colour and radical Islam is nothing to do with that. There are millions of Muslims who are shocked by it too,” she said.
A spokeswoman for the gallery said: “Mall Galleries was approached by Westminster Police who expressed concern about the potential risks of including Mimsy’s work.
“They made it clear there would be an additional policing cost if the work was included in the exhibition and indicated this cost would be passed on either to the artist or to the exhibition organiser.
“Mall Galleries relayed this information to the exhibition organiser, whose Board met and decided to remove the work from the exhibition.”