Today the Swedish artist Lars Vilks, – the man behind drawings of the prophet Mohammed as a dog that has earned him death threats from Al Qaida – was supposed to present his work at the Esloev Biennale in south Sweden. But Vilks who is under police protection, was denied access to the exhibition. Nobody knows what mr. Vilks was planning to put on view, but the decision to exclude him had to do with his drawings of Mohammed.
”It’s an unnecessary provocation to allow Vilks to join the exhibition…Many people are offended by his art,” comments Celilia Lind, socialdemocratic member of the city council, to Skaanska Dagbladet.
All the fuss around Lars Vilk’s Mohammed drawings began back in august when two Swedish art institutions refused to exhibit them referring to security concerns, and subsequently a local newspaper published one of the drawings to start a debate.
Eva Hallberg, head of the city’s culture department, told mr. Vilks that the invitation to put his work on view had been cancelled. She feared that his very presence would create problems.
Khalid El-Haj, another socialdemocratic member of the city council, explained his position on Vilks to Skaanska Dagbladet:
”I don’t want to say he is a bad artist, but I do think so. It would create negative attention around Esloev if we allowed him to join the exhibition, and that’s the reason why we don’t want him here.”
El-Haj added the often repeated insult to millions of Muslims that he as a Muslim was offended on behalf of 1 billion Muslims around the world.
Fortunately, not all the locals agreed with the position taken by the city council. Art consultant Frederik Axwik said:
”This isn’t good for our town because we risk being denounced as narrow minded people. Threats have been directed against Lars Vilks, and I understand the politicians’ concern, but we have the police to take care of matters if any trouble occurs.”
Art critic Pontus Kyander has called on the judiciary to take action. He thinks the censorship of Lars Vilks is a violation of the Swedish constitution.
”It’s not for local authorities to decide which artists are permitted to exhibit their work. It’s a local berufsverbot. The right to free speech is thoroughly defended in the constitution, and especially artistic freedom has wide limits… As I see it, Esloev city council has violated the constitution, and the case need to be given af hearing in court.”
On his blog Vilks comments that his exclusion from the exhibition is very similar to what happenend to artists in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that the authorities didn’t like and therefore denounced as offensive.
Some of Vilks’ supporters in Esloev invited the Danish artist and free speech activist Uwe Max Jensen to take his place, and at todays opening he performed a brillant stunt. A few days ago Uwe Max Jensen received a copy of one of Mr. Vilks’ drawings of Mohammed, and today he put it on a table and started to erase the drawing with a piece of rubber. Before initiating this operation Mr. Jensen said that he did it to protest the censorship of Lars Vilks. The final product, a piece of white paper will be put on view in the room where Mr. Vilks’ work was supposed to be shown.
According to Mr. Jensen his Erased Mohammed is a paraphrase of Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooening. In 1953 Rauschenberg erased a drawing made by the expressionist Wilem de Kooning. It’s a classic work of modern conceptual art.