Free speech art exhibition in Warsaw draws criticism

Representatives of Jewish groups have issued an open letter criticising an art exhibition in Warsaw that focuses on so-called cancel culture. The phenomenon is based on social ostracism against people who have voiced controversial opinions. Cancel culture is often associated with people losing their jobs following online campaigns calling for employers or clients to distance themselves from the person that is deemed to have voiced unacceptable opinions.

One of the most controversial artists to be featured in the "Political Art"-exhibition is the Swedish artist Dan Park who has been sentenced to prison on multiple occasions for hate speech connected with his art.

One of his pieces at the "Political Art"-exhibition depicts the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik posing as a fashion model for the French Lacoste clothing brand.

Poland's chief rabbi Michael Schudrich and Zygmunt Stepinski, director of the POLIN museum of the history of Polish Jews have written an open letter in which "We do not agree to support for people who spread hatred, intolerance and hostility," read the letter signed by, among others,

Park has been convicted several times for his provocative words and actions, including in 1996 when he wore a bomber jacket featuring a swastika, bearing the words 'Heil Hitler' and 'SS' and the skull-and-crossbones Totenkopf symbol.

He told the court he wore it as a provocation, not because he sympathised with Nazism.

The exhibition at the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art is described by organisers as a celebration of free speech and a platform for artists who fall victim to "cancel culture".

The exhibition also includes works by the Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, who in 2007 sparked controversy with his drawings of the Muslim Prophet Mohammad. The publications of the drawings led to a major international crisis, with street protests organised in large parts of the Muslim world.

Vilks was the main target during an Islamist terror attack in 2015 against a conference in Copenhagen dubbed "Art, blasphemy and freedom".

22-year-old Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein shot and killed one of the attendees before escaping and killing a member of Copenhagen’s Jewish community while trying to break into the city’s Great Synagogue.

The exhibition also includes an art project by the Danish artist Kristian von Hornsleth, who has previously caused outrage after paying 340 impoverished villagers in Uganda to legally change their names to "Hornsleth".

The management of the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art has defended their decision to organise the exhibition by referencing to free speech and stating that “artists who contradict these tendencies and advocate unrestrained expression and anti-mainstream ideas often pay the highest price for testing the limits of tolerance and confronting political dogmas”.

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