On 25 and 26 of October, artists, journalists, activists, scholars and curators from over twenty countries convened in Oslo for a conference entitled ‘All that is Banned is Desired’: World Conference on Artistic Freedom, organised by Fritt Ord and Freemuse. The aim of the conference was to discuss why, where, and how artistic freedom of expression is being denied, and artists and their works condemned, banned and persecuted.
The obvious, and most extreme results of this are when artists are murdered or imprisoned. But the conference was also concerned with examining the social and economic effects of censorship.
So why are so many governments and other bodies so keen to ban and censor music and other arts? ArtsFreedom write that ‘Cultural artefacts carry with them the power to influence the minds and motivations of the masses, and with it, the power to divert people from an awareness of and compliance with the normative behaviours of a society as dictated by religious and political ideologies. The control of culture is thus a major concern for both clerics and politicians’.
As the name of the conference suggests, however, it seems that the more extreme the limitations placed upon artistic freedom are, the more the desire for greater freedom of expression is fuelled.
Topics discussed were extremely varied in terms of the art form concerned, who was doing the censoring, and geographical location. For example, there were talks entitled ‘Religion and Artistic Freedom of Expression’, ‘Moral Panics: Sexuality and Art’, and ‘Corporate Censorship’. Also discussed were more focused examples of censorship, such as ‘The Artist vs. the State: the Case of Lapiro de Mbanga and the Campaign for Pussy Riot’, and ‘The Day the Music Stopped: Mali’, which featured a performance by Terakaft, who played music now banned in his home country.
An interesting talk to consider in more detail is one entitled ‘Artists in an inescapable political context: Cuba’. Here, the focus was not so much on the actual censorship of music (although the country does have a long history of this!), but on how Cuban artists are restricted by people’s imaginations of what Cuban music and Cubans shouldbe.
There is also a website which has been created in conjunction with the event, which features more in-depth articles about censorship. A particularly poignant example is one which reports on the death of ten rappers murdered over two years in the Colombian city of Medellín, whose only crime was to try to get young people away from a life overshadowed by drug gangs.