Poland’s Jewish community has protested against the inclusion of works by an artist convicted of hate speech in an exhibition at a state-run art gallery in Warsaw.
The dispute is part of wider controversy around a new exhibition, financed by the culture ministry, of intentionally provocative works at the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art (CSW). The gallery says it aims to tackle the “cancel culture” of censorship that has become increasingly prevalent in western countries.
Among those whose works are being displayed is Dan Park, a Swedish artist who has supported far-right groups, expressed sympathy for terrorist Anders Breivik, called the Holocaust a “Jewish lie”, and been convicted for hate speech against minorities.
In 1998, Park was convicted for wearing a jacket adorned with swastikas. In 2009, he faced trial for placing swastikas and boxes labelled “Zyklon B” outside a Jewish community centre.
Though acquitted in that case, he has since been convicted three times for incitement to hatred and using racial slurs against immigrants in Sweden. Park has also been pictured performing a fascist salute in front of a Jewish cemetery, marching with a neo-Nazi party,, attending a neo-Nazi gathering in Hungary, or addressing a PEGIDA demonstration wearing a yellow star badge.
The artist himself claims that he is not racist, and that his work is intended simply as a commentary on current affairs and as a protest against political correctness and other limitations on free speech. One of his works depicts Hitler as Jesus alongside the words “he died for our sins”.
In an open letter to Piotr Bernatowicz, director of the CSW gallery, 19 leaders of Jewish organisations in Poland say they “strongly protest” the display of Park’s work.
“Inviting people with such a worldview to the exhibition in Poland arouses our surprise and sadness,” they write. “We support liberty and freedom of expression in art, but we believe that the limit is…supporting people who spread hatred, intolerance and hostility.”
“In Poland, a country where six million citizens died as a result of Nazi policy, the activities of artists such as Dan Park offend the feelings of all Poles, all decent people,” conclude the authors. Among the signatories is Michael Schudrich, Poland’s chief rabbi, who told the Associated Press (AP) that “having such art displayed is evil”.
The works to be displayed by various artists at the exhibition include an image showing a swastika created from LGBT rainbow flags that is intended to “protest the taboo around criticising the gay rights movement”. Another depicts Breivik as a model for clothing brand Lacoste, notes the AP.
In a quote carried by Gazeta Wyborcza, Bernatowicz insisted that “we are not presenting works which promote neo-Nazi ideology…[or] hatred towards minorities”.
“Such an interpretation of [the artists’] works and artistic activities may result from ideological prejudices and ignorance of the language of contemporary art,” he continued. “Their works should not be read literally, but taking into account the broad context and meanings and events to which they relate.”
The exhibition in Warsaw is co-curated by Jon Eirik Lundberg, a Norwegian who organised a similar exhibition in Denmark two years ago. He told AP that the show does not promote racism and simply aims to fight for free speech and democracy.