Artists talk about freedom and censorship

February 2004 -

Artists are probably more prohibited from expressing themselves than they have support or true freedom of expression. During the conference with the theme Claiming Artistic Freedom, eight artists discussed their personal situations. HIVOS organized the conference in cooperation with the Winter Nights festival. The artists were writers, film and theater producers, publishers and art critics from various countries.

Film maker Prasanna Vithanage from Sri Lanka talked of being victimized by censure when the government banned his film. He filed a complaint with the courts, won the case and his film was highly successful.

When organizing expositions and workshops, Pooja Sood from New Delhi must take the rising Hindu fundamentalism into account. An exposition by Islamic artists can result in riots or other crises, especially if the artists are from Pakistan.

Annari van der Merwe of the South-African publishing house Kwel Books painted a picture for the audience of the literary climate in her country. There the problem is not censure but the lack of a reading tradition and thus of an audience. The government, if possible with assistance from the business sector, should strive to promote literature, especially through the educational system.

During the closing debate in which all eight guests participated, censure, the oppression of the freedom of speech and physical violence proved to be evident and frightening obstacles to artistic freedom. The artists must also deal with a lot of shortages: not enough money, not enough facilities, no market, no cultural education. This passive attitude, resulting in ignorance, seems as disastrous to art as active repression. Nearly all of the participants believe that an international network is of vital importance, not only for financial support but also as protection from terror.