Defending freedom of expression and the right to create

It started when outraged believers stormed into various local cinemas in order to stop screenings of Mel Gibson’s «The Last Temptation of Christ.» Then it happened again: Domna Samiou was accused of performing «indecent» songs, while recently, there was heated reaction against Oliver Stone’s «Alexander.» Clearly a number of self-appointed «defenders» of the public interest never miss a chance to spot anything that might offend Greek society’s accepted behavior: films, exhibitions and books are heavily scrutinized before being savaged by merciless tabloids. A similar case is scheduled to appear at a misdemeanors court tomorrow. Art curator Christos Ioakimidis is being accused for including «Dry Sin,» a painting by artist Thierry de Cordier, in the Outlook exhibition which took place in Athens in 2003. So what if 17 months have gone by since then? What about the fact that the Ombudsman deemed that the painting’s removal was not right or that numerous intellectuals took the curator’s side and raised issues of censorship? According to the accusations, the curator is being charged for including the «indecent and despicable» painting, «a creation of perverted artistic thought.» The work, which showed an erect penis and a cross, is accused of «showering abuse on» and «mocking» the Eastern Orthodox Church. It all began in December 2003 (one-and-a-half months after the show’s opening) when Giorgos Karatzaferis, leader of the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), saw the painting. A day later, the offensive work was removed. The case of the painting’s removal also led to a number of commentaries in the foreign press: From the UK’s Observer (14/12/03) to the Taipei Times (8/01/04), journalists noted that instead of Athens celebrating a success on the international fine arts scene, it had plunged into an atmosphere of bigotry and obscurantism. How will the trial’s outcome affect Greek freedom of expression? Kathimerini contacted Norman Rosenthal, director of the Royal Academy in London (who had previously collaborated with Ioakimidis) as well as leading German art critic Bernhard Schulz, who offered their own take on the matter. «I have nothing against Christianity. However, if Greece wishes to be part of the current European experiment and contemporary European culture, it has to understand that tolerance is the cornerstone of the new multicultural societies,» noted Rosenthal. «I find it ridiculous and absurd that a work of art chosen by one of Europe’s most serious curators is considered indecent.» «We faced similar problems in the 1950s and the 1960s,» said Schulz, adding that according to Article 5 of the German Constitution, freedom of art is now guaranteed. «Even if the Church or some of the faithful were insulted by a painting or a work of art, the state would protect the artist.» Comments by Norman Rosenthal were translated from the Greek text.

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