An exhibition billed as a celebration of freedom has been censored after police raised security concerns. Seven images of Sylvanian Families, the famous anthropomorphic animal toys, under attack from Islamic State (ISIS) were deemed to be inflammatory leading to financial demands from the police to ensure the gallery’s protection.
The pictures of oppressed Sylvanian Families were produced by an artist operating under the pseudonym ‘Mimsy’ between November 2014 and May 2015. They were due to be displayed as part of London’s Mall Galleries art festival Passion For Freedom. The catalogue note described the art as follows:
“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 tranquility. Until Now.
“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.”
An aim of Passion For Freedom, according to its website, is to “create space for artists and writers who discuss subjects omitted in politically correct circles”. The seventh annual celebration, which has just finished, was billed as being of crucial importance: “nine months on from the tragic shootings at Charlie Hebdo, the art community come together in London to celebrate freedom”.
Or maybe not.
London police raised their concerns about the “potentially inflammatory content” of ‘Isis Threaten Sylvania’, reports The Guardian.
They informed organisers they would have to stump up security costs of £36,000 for the six-day exhibition if they went ahead with plans to display it alongside such important pieces as Jamie McCartney’s nine-metre long cast of the genitals of 400 women, The Great Wall of Vagina.
It was, in fact, Mall Galleries who asked for the pictures of toy animals going about their daily life at beaches, beer festivals or simply watching television while menacing figures of armed jihadis haunt the background, to be removed. They cited a clause in the exhibition contract allowing them the right to request an artwork’s removal.
Mimsy explained her artwork to Metro newspaper, saying:
“I was inspired by the theocratic barbarism of ISIS, the obvious fear of terrorism in the west, and the neo-liberal denial of any actual threat…
“I played with Sylvanian Families frequently as a child of the early 90s, and for some reason thought they were the perfect depiction of innocence…
“…there is also a one-dimensional childish element to the image that perfectly summarises the mentality of religious fundamentalists. They are blowing themselves up and murdering for a cause that is as so flat, thin and childish, it may as well be depicted as if it were a toy set in an ARGOS catalogue.”
Mimsy told the Guardian why she works under a pseudonym, explaining that as the daughter of a Syrian father whose Jewish family fled to Lebanon when he was a child, she is acutely aware of potential risks in speaking out, adding:
“I love my freedom. 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.
“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.”
Jonathan Jones, art critic at The Guardian, is a fan of the works. He wrote:
“Satire is not meant to be subtle. These works of art are viciously funny – and for once the joke is directed against a truly dangerous target. But is it such a dangerous target that no-one can make jokes about Islamic State any more?
If an artist can’t show art on the grounds that it might provoke terror, the terrorists have plainly won.
The suppression of these Sylvanian satires is as absurd and sinister as the reports that police officers asked for the names of British people buying Charlie Hebdo.
What’s happening to us? Are we already ruled by black clad puppets of intolerance?
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.”
Whether he would say the same about stalled attempts to host a British exhibition of Muhammad cartoons, as reported by Breitbart London, is not known.