Sweden: Artist accuses museum of censoring gay exhibit

Sweden: Artist accuses museum of censoring gay exhibit

Swedish artist Elisabeth Ohlson-Wallin is accusing the Muslim of World Culture in Gothenburg of backing out of their arrangement to show her pro-LGBT project "Jerusalem". The project deals with the religious oppression of LGBT people.

The museum responds: that being nunaced is not cowardly, and that they wanted to give religion a voice in the discussion as well.

This article was prepared by the Islam in Europe blog - islamineurope.blogspot.com

In a recent article in Expressen, Elisabeth Ohlson-Wallin wrote about her experiences in Jerusalem, photographing her naked models in sexual poses on the same streets where "Jesus and Mohammed" may have walked. For two weeks, she says, she photographed Muslim gays, Christian Lesbians and Jewish transsexuals. Her new friends in Jerusalem wondered how she had managed not to get shot. They thanks her and hoped she could display the pictures there. That hadn't worked out.

In Sweden freedom of speech is much more advanced, and yet the Muslim of World Culture refused to display her exhibit "Jerusalem" as it was intended. They told her they were going by what religious leaders who had seen the pictures said. Elisabeth Ohlson-Wallin got upset: had they asked those who oppress LGBT about her photos, which highlight the oppression.

The museum suggested that the photos be shown in a 'safe space', where not everybody can enter, or as a power-point demonstration. Otherwise, it would be offensive to Muslims, Christians and Jews, she was told.

Elisabeth Ohlson-Wallin says that when she offered the museum three years ago to premier her exhibit, they were happy. Maybe they saw it as a way to redress the 2005 scandal, when they pulled down the work of Muslim artist Louzla Darabi after getting threats from angry religious Muslims. Now, Elisabeth Ohlson-Wallin says, they once against decide not to irritate the religious, and that can only lead to prejudices about how religious people are expected to respond.


In a press release, the Museum of World Culture rejects the accusations.

The museum says that their only agreement with Elisabeth Ohlson-Wallin was to help fund her trip, and that the images would later be exhibited per the museum's decision. The exhibit would only be ready next year, and they were only talking now about the best way to exhibit the issues the project brings up.

The museum's decisions are not based on fear, they say. They speak not only with those they agree with. If they are to broaden the conversation in Swedish society, they need to go past the fixed positions and categorizations.

The LGBT issue is one of the issues which is very important to the museum, and they've worked on it continuously during the museum's five year history, in exhibits, programs and festivals. However, they want to bring up all human rights, the right to be religious as well as the right to be LGBT.

The debate about religion and freedom of speech is currently an important one, and the museum doesn't want to further polarize it. It is a simple wish to let religious arguments have a place in a composed and open discussion. They want to give religion the option of being something other than an indignant mass of protest where the most radical and angry get the most attention. It's not undemocratic to be religious, but it's undemocratic to deny others a voice in the discussion.

In preparing the "Jerusalem" exhibit, they've seen enormous opportunities for open and constructive talks, opportunities they wanted to expand in the exhibition.

The fact that the museum wants to have composed, religious voices who want to counteract the oppression of LGBT people express themselves, doesn't mean that they've chosen sides. It means they want to have more than one voice heard.

The museum goes on to say that Elisabeth Ohlson-Wallin has categorically refused any proposals to show her pictures in a context where nuancing and dissenting voices can be heard. They stressed to her that the museum works through dialog and support.

But both she and Lars Gårdfeldt have decided to suspend cooperation and claim that the museum are cowards just because they want to give room to those who don't see the exhibition as the best way to encourage discussion. They're not yielding to religious authorities. They're trying to balance several important democratic rights, and refuse to see the world in black and white.

The museum doesn't value one voice more than another, but it wants more voices to be present in conjunction with this exhibit, so that visitors could have a better basis for making up their own opinion. The museum is not grading oppression and saying that homophobia is worse than hostility to religion or xenophobia, or vice versa. The world is not as black and white as the debate make it, and the museum is therefore arguing for more nunancing.

Sources: Expressen, Museum of World Culture (Swedish)

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