World Culture Museum removes painting after complaints

The World Culture Museum in Gothenburg managed to stay open for about a month before finding itself in the middle of a controversy that has attracted international attention. This week the museum removed a painting from "No Name Fever", an exhibition on HIV/AIDS.

The painting in question is an erotic scene with a few lines from the Koran written above.

It’s a work by French-based artist Louzla Darabi. Darabi told TV4 that while she can understand the critique that has come about, she was not trying to provoke; she wanted simply to underscore the relationship between love and God.

Some vocal members of the Muslim community in Gothenburg and abroad, however, launched a letter-writing campaign that resulted in hundreds of e-mails and letters. Most, according to the museum’s director, have been respectful.

Expressen’s columnist looked into the online message boards that are buzzing with the debate, and reported finding messages along the lines of “remember what happened in Holland”.

The museum, however, insists that the “threats” it received have nothing to do with the removal of the work; it seems they don’t want to feel that they can be bullied.

Jette Sandahl, the museum’s director, told the press that the removal is all about focus: the exhibition was meant to be an educational one about HIV/AIDS, not freedom of expression, and she is simply attempting to bring the focus back.

Of course, removing a painting from an exhibition and then sending out a press release is not the best way to keep the conversation away from freedom of expression. The Swedish press vacillates between complete understanding and righteous outrage at the museum’s actions, and some Christians see the move as particularly discriminatory.

A letter printed in Göteborgs-Posten told the story of a controversial exhibition in a church in Uppsala wherein Jesus was represented as a homosexual; though several Christians complained, the exhibition got the go-ahead from the priest and bishop.

While the conversation around freedom of expression sparked by the painting is an interesting one, in removing the work the museum might simply have been doing its job.

The museum’s goals are to present the world’s cultures to all visitors – and to draw visitors from all the world’s cultures. It hopes to be inclusive; the mission is obviously different from that of an art museum and the inclusion of the painting in the first place could be seen as a curatorial mistake.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Expressen, SR, Göteborgs-Posten, Reuters

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Stockholm’s giant penis mural to be covered up after complaints

A giant blue penis painted on a Stockholm apartment building is to be covered up after just one week, the company which owns the building has said.

Stockholm's giant penis mural to be covered up after complaints
The penis was painted in blue with a yellow background, perhaps reflecting Sweden's national colours. Photo: Photo: Hugo Röjgård/Graffitifrämjandet
Atrium Ljungberg said it had come to the decision after receiving a barrage of complaints about the five-story high depiction of a bulging erection.  
“Of course we care about artistic freedom, but at the same time we must respect the opinion of our closest neighbours,” Camilla Klint, the company's marketing head, said in a statement. 
“By letting it remain for a short period, we are offering anyone who's interested a chance to experience the work.” 
The company said that it had been given no prior warning that a giant penis was about to appear on one of its blocks. 
“On Wednesday morning, April 11th, we saw  Kollektivet Livet's new work for the first time, at exactly the same moment as all the other people who live on Kungsholmen did,” it said in its statement.  
Under their arrangement, the artist collective had total artistic freedom over the works it commissioned for the wall, at Kronobergsgatan 35 on the central Stockholm island of Kungsholmen.  
The decision will come as a disappointment to the artist Carolina Falkholt. Her first giant penis painting, which she plastered on a wall in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in December, lasted only a few days. 
She said on Wednesday that she expected her native Swedes to be more receptive. 
Atrium Ljungberg did acknowledge that many appreciated the painting. 
“Some people are positive about the work and see it as playing an important part in the debate around sexuality, the body and gender,” the company wrote.
“Others, particularly neighbours, have received the work less well, and experience it as offensive.”