Artistic freedoms create critical rooms for reflection

Even though engagement in artistic freedom is growing these years, there is much work to be done in understanding the complexity of the suppression of creative freedom and to form strategies to protect rights.

Artistic freedom encapsulates fundamental human rights such as the freedom to imagine, create, and engage in diverse cultural expressions freely without interference, censorship or persecution.

While these human rights are essential and innate for a thriving society, artistic freedom is under attack from intolerant individuals and groups, hate-speech, racism and religious extremism. A trend we’ve only seen intensify over the last few years..

Yet, despite the danger of persecution, artists around the world risk their lives, livelihood and reputation in the pursuit of artistic expression. Why? Because art communicates something even deeper and richer than the mere aesthetic experience: it communicates what it means to be human. The tradition of art and art making provides us with valuable insights into who we are, both as individuals and as a society.

Signals  show how artists develop ways to integrate messages, stories and ideas through their artistic practice. Clever and cunning attempts to avoid censorship or communicate messages that would otherwise risk intervention or censorship:

Anne Samat, a contemporary sculptor from Malaysia, creates colourful totemic textile beings using a mixture of materials. She incorporates objects and symbols which communicate everything from queer culture to indigenous heritage. At the same time her works are exhibited in places and shown to people who represent regimes of censorship and xenophobia and who unknowingly are confronted with or maybe even celebrating pieces that represent the values they attempt to suppress. 

Louise Xin, a Chinese-Swedish designer, uses her voice in fashion shows to criticise an industry from within for its massive role in harming the environment and threatening human rights. Through media coverage across the world her messages were exposed for those she criticises.

Art thereby creates rooms for reflection: art exists in the cracks and openings where it encounters the world. It provides us with valuable insights into who we are – not only as individuals but also as a society. Artworks are produced by artists living in specific societal circumstances and therefore reflect the experience in society as an artist. Art has the capacity to penetrate beyond the boundaries of representation – to pinpoint what and who is behind or outside the frame. 

How can we, as a society, consistently make sure that we retain access to these insights that art, and by extension artists, provide, when they are free to pursue topics and strategies that lie outside (or inside) of the mainstream?

Based on 14 signals