An artist based in Wales whose work on the Nakba was censored following complaints from local Zionist groups, has said the actions ‘amount to the defacement of a piece of art and a censoring of artistic expression, something that should not happen anywhere in Britain, let alone at a publicly funded arts organisation.’
James Morris wrote to the management of Clwyd Theatre Cymru, after a decision was taken – without consulting the artist – to remove the captions accompanying his photographic series, Time and Remains, during the final week of a six-week exhibition at the theatre’s Oriel Gallery. In his letter to the Welsh theatre, he informed them he would be cancelling his scheduled artist’s talk on Friday 6 March, adding that ‘Any talk or public debate which could now take place would have to focus on what my exhibition has become, a censored art piece. It would have to be rescheduled and readvertised as such.’
The series, also known as ‘That Still Remains,’ documents the ‘scattered remains from across the country of the now historic Palestinian presence in much of Israel’s landscape.’ Morris is an artist and not a campaigner or activist. He writes in his introductory text the history that give his photographs their meaning:
The pictures record the locations of some of the 400 or so Palestinian villages that were cleared of their population, and then deliberately demolished, in the aftermath of the 1948 war. In referencing the impact of this war, which brought about the new state of Israel, the pictures reflect on a principle cause of the subsequent Israeli / Palestinian conflict; and the still unresolved refugee problem.
All the pictures are taken on or very close to the original location of a Palestinian village or town. Many scenes defy, in what there is left to see, the history of the place. Despite the preponderance for memorials and information boards through out the country that explain and celebrate modern and ancient history, there is virtually no official notification of this history. Together images and text explore a story that rarely makes the headlines, and which is little known.
The captions were reinstated on Friday, after the media picked up the story, and Arts Council Wales (part-funders of the Aberystwyth Arts Centre touring exhibition) intervened. The theatre’s artistic director, Terry Hands, said he regretted the artist was not consulted. However, he defended the gallery’s actions, telling a local paper, Daily Post, that
There is no censorship, but we did receive some complaints that they may contain political messages. In the interests of even-handedness – surely a prerequisite of free speech – we have allowed the art to speak for itself.
Terry Hands repeated this line of defence – a blatant perversion of the ethos of an independent arts organisation, publicly funded or not – in a surreally complacent interview with BBC Wales on Friday afternoon (listen from 01:43:00):
superb photographs…but with texts underneath them that could be read as political statements; I was a little concerned that we might have protests about that, and after a while we did, as a result of which the curator in order to placate those who were upset…took down the statements to focus on the art…we have to be open-handed, even-handed, we’re not a political body, we’re a theatre, and if somebody in a play says something very strong on one side then it is our job to say something equally strong on the other side, it’s for the public to decide.
Morris has explained in a further letter, to his MP, that he was told by the gallery only that
a number of complaints were received from various ‘Jewish groups,’ but despite asking I have been given no more detail and have not been ask to reply; which I would happily have done.
He then explained that it was a Christian Zionist minister who came to the gallery in person. Saying he was acting on behalf of ‘Jewish organisations, he’ threatened that there would be consequences if the captions were not removed, and intimidated the curator into taking them down.
The minister is Mike Fryer who describes himself on this website as a retired National Crime Squad Detective whose police experience,
God has used…to gather and produce evidence about the truth of the terrorism in Israel. Mike also investigates the extent to which paganism and witchcraft is affecting our communities and Churches in the UK and has written a book called “Craft or Christ” on this subject. Mike has also studied Christian Antisemitism at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Israel
Theatre patrons supporting Morris are demanding:
– that the exhibition is extended for a further full week in its uncensored form;
– that the talk he was asked to give is rescheduled;
– that the theatre issues a public apology for the events of this week.
Unless these demands are met, the photographer and others ‘will be handing out a defence of the work, and of the principle of fighting the censorship of artistic expression’ at a protest planned for tonight [Saturday 7 March], the final day of the exhibition.