Artistic freedom is a human right: Statement by artists Karski & Beyond
The statement below is written by artists Karski & Beyond, and shared by Justice and Peace Netherlands. Justice and Peace stands by the artists and the message of the Mural of Change and those depicted, and reaffirms the importance of the freedom of expression and artistic freedom of artists everywhere.
“Attacks on the freedom of (cultural) expression from intolerant individuals and groups, hate-speech, racism, and xenophobia among others denote the denial of one of the fundamental prerequisites of democracy; the right of everyone to participate in debate as free and equal individuals.” – Helsinki Declaration on Promoting Diversity of Cultural Expressions and Artistic Freedom in a Digital Age, Nordic Ministers of Culture (2016)
Commotion and Death Threats
At the beginning of May this year, we worked on a new painting on the building of The Hague University of Applied Sciences, the Mural of Change. The idea for this painting materialised in a meeting with the team of Justice and Peace, a human rights organisation based in The Hague that implements solutions to human rights issues locally and internationally.
Because we as Karski & Beyond find the vision and mission of Justice and Peace so inspiring and relevant, we decided to join forces and draw attention to the human rights defenders of today by realising a large mural in The Hague. After a brainstorm with a group of students from The Hague University of Applied Sciences, we had enough input to come up with a design and make the mural.
Of the three activists depicted, the portrait of the young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has garnered a lot of, namely negative, attention. This included attacking comments on channels such as Facebook, because everyone seems to have an opinion about this young girl. Soon the baton was taken over by a CDA city councilor from The Hague, who believes that the government should play a determining role in what artists can and cannot depict. He even went so far as to suggest that our mural be removed as soon as possible. He has since asked questions in the city council.
The Dutch newspapers naturally also had their comments, ranging from negative in the Telegraaf to positive in the AD. A radio station interviewed us because of the statements of the angry CDA city council member and in the end the mural was even discussed on national television. Obviously for us, this attention is fine. That is precisely the purpose of the painting: to draw attention to the human rights defenders, and to those who stand up for all of us. The human rights defender.
We fully support our painting and will not allow ourselves to be silenced or suppressed and stand by that no government determines what we can or cannot make. We make art and that can get you going, it can make you think, it doesn’t have to be easy to digest. Hopefully, it will spark discussions and change things when we talk about human rights. And our artistic freedom is also a human right, let’s hope we will never be physically attacked or killed for that!
We of course take comments on various media with a grain of salt and we continue to sleep well, but it is not normal to utter death threats to artists.
– Karski & Beyond
“Art has the extraordinary capacity to express resistance and rebellion, protest and hope. It injects a vital contribution to any flourishing democracy.” – Deeyah Khan, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Artistic Freedom and Creativity