Svetlana Mintcheva: Sex, Blasphemy, Terrorism: Art and Free Speech in an Age of Emotive Politics
A national museum removes an established artist’s historic video from an exhibition due to religious pressure; a man gets a jail sentence after receiving explicit Japanese comics; a newly elected governor banishes a labor mural from the state’s department of labor because it may offend business interests – these are some of the incidents that define the current landscape of art censorship in the U.S. In a country that holds the principle of free speech as sacred, censorship needs to wear the disguise of lofty goals: it pretends to protect the innocence of children, the sensitivities of the faithful, the wholesome values of the community. The ultimate goal is to make self-censorship the order of the day. The censor – more frequently a member of a private group than a government official – evokes outrage, disgust or the self-righteousness of offended values and beliefs. Emotional appeals are often supplemented by economic pressures: threats of withdrawn funding and boycotts targeting corporations. These are often successful since the control of information in America, together with everything else, is being increasingly privatized and exercised by tech giants such as YouTube, Amazon, Facebook and Apple.
Freud’s analysis of dreams reveals that it is the most powerful content of the unconscious that is censored; so it is with looking at a culture through the prism of censorship: the censor’s targets reveal a society’s deepest obsessions, the demons it creates to protect itself from self-knowledge and change.
Svetlana Mintcheva is director of programs at the National Coalition Against Censorship, a 37-year old alliance of U.S. national non-profit organizations united around the mission to promote freedom of thought, inquiry and expression and oppose censorship in all its forms. She is the founding director of NCAC’s Arts Advocacy Program, the only U.S. national initiative devoted to the arts and free expression today. Svetlana has written on emerging trends in censorship, organized public discussions and mobilized support for individual artists. She is the co-editor of Censoring Culture: Contemporary Threats to Free Expression (New Press, 2006), curator of Filth, Treason, Blasphemy?: Museums and Censorship (McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum) and author of Exposing the Censor Within, an interactive public art installation. An academic as well as an activist, Mintcheva has taught literature and critical theory at the University of Sofia, Bulgaria, and at Duke University, Durham, NC, from which she received her Ph.D. in critical theory in 1999. She is currently adjunct professor at the Steinhardt School of Media and Communications at NYU. Her academic research focuses on postmodern fiction as well as on ethics, censorship and the notion of “offense.”
The project Blindfold, co-organised by KUD Mreža – Alkatraz Gallery, Scientific Research Centre SASA, Maska Ljubljana, Horizonti – Institute for Art, Culture, Science and Education, ZAK Publishing Society, has been supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia, Ljubljana Municipality, FRAME – Finnish Fund for Art Exchange, EU within the External Actions of the European Union and Embassy of the United States Ljubljana.
Thanks to Tanja Velagić, Dalibor Jovanović, Matej Turnšek, Osma Karttunen, Erkki Sevänen and Embassy of Finland in Ljubljana.
Project curated by: Dr Mojca Puncer
More on symposium: http://www.project-blindfold.net/