In the 21st century, censorship, bans and cancel culture proliferate. In the current context, Noam Chomsky’s assertion, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all,” remains all too pertinent.
Indeed, the history of art is plagued with instances of censorship. Michelangelo grappled with it while painting the Sistine Chapel, as did Francisco de Goya, with some of his engravings from the series Los Caprichos being exhibited in the Museu de l’Art Prohibit. Gustav Klimt and Pablo Picasso, whose work can also be seen at the Museu de l’Art Prohibit, also encountered proscriptions.
While studies on censorship and cancel culture are scarce, notable exercises include journalist and writer Gareth Harris’ book Censored Art Today. The volume, published by Lund Humphries and Sotheby’s Institute of Art in 2022, identifies and scrutinises the myriad dimensions of censorship that obstruct the principle of free artistic expression.
Gareth Harris emphasises that “restricting what people see and absorb ultimately revolves around controlling a narrative for a mass audience, both in the physical and virtual realms, from determining why historical monuments should be removed from public view to suspending artists’ social media accounts.” An indispensable evaluation, Censored Art Today strives to elucidate why censorship is on the rise, who enforces it and who bears its brunt.
Indeed, Svetlana Mintcheva, the director and founder of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), an organisation dedicated to defending the arts against censorship, is one of the leading figures who has written about the boundaries between freedom of expression and creativity. Her article "Caravaggio killed a man. Should we therefore censor his art? ", published in The Guardian in February 2018, continues to provoke reflection.
Just as the NCAC champions freedom of thought, inquiry and expression, and opposes censorship in all forms, the Museu de l’Art Prohibit emerges with the aspiration of serving as a realm of creative freedom and a laboratory for addressing acts of censorship in the arts.