Censored- We are Millions (2019)
#WeAreMillions (2019 -) is a massive global online campaign supporting the imprisoned WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange, who on behalf of Freedom of Information is risking a lifetime behind bars in the US. On July 26th 2019, the Art Collective, Sak’en, launched the first physical version of the exhibition in three locations in Bergen, displaying photos of regular people and public figures, all holding signs in support for Press Freedom and the release of Julian Assange. The exhibition also consisted of original artwork by several artists and information such as Nils Melzner’s (The United Nations Rapporteur of Torture) Op-Ed.
Within a short week the exhibition became a display of censorship in more ways than one: One of the locations was Noways largest media hub– Media City Bergen . AFK received a telephone call from his contact at Media City. According to the building owner, Entra Eiendom, a number of complaints had been received about the exhibition being “too one sided” and the following email was sent to all tenants…
“Art has a function when it creates debate and disagreement, and it is the artist’s point of view and opinion expressed in art, not Compass Group or Entra’s. We have however decided that it is right to remove the exhibition this time. “
National organizations, and some of the media tenants made it clear that the removal was unacceptable:
“Unfortunately, a sign of the times is that ‘some reactions’ is sufficient to remove artistic expressions. But – having this happening in the bastion of Free Speech is beyond comprehension. Media companies should clearly and explicitly tell the house owners that this kind of censorship is completely unacceptable. The exhibition should be reinstalled immediately, and Entra should apologize” – Editor of BA
The Norwegian PEN, called it a serious attack on Freedom of Speech and a clear case of Censorship.
“The assembly of Norwegian Visual Artists react to what we consider as censorship of an art exhibition. The actions are an attack on the Freedom of Speech, which we cannot accept. We gather behind Norwegian PEN in this matter; The exhibition should be reinstalled according to the agreement with the artists, whoever demanded it removed must come forward to justify their claim, and the ones responsible for the removal must justify their actions. To remove artwork without an explanation is nothing but censorship.” – Chairman Ruben Steinum
Although the overwhelming majority of reactions were that of condemnation, a number of people applauded the exhibition’s removal. This facebook post from TV2 journalist, Øistein Borge was rather revealing.
“Fake Art: In the summer someone managed to sneak a large-scale propaganda campaign in support of the hacker and election manipulator Julian Assange into the atrium at Media City Bergen – under the guise that it was art. Now it finally seems that it will be removed. “
That night, a new artwork emerged in Bergen. The painting depicted AFK’s own portrait photo from the exhibition, but with his face replaced by a Globe and the inscription ‘Censored?’. The artwork was guarded for 24hrs to protect it from theft and vandalism.
“Censored? No matter what your opinion may be about Julian Assange, his potential extradition to the US is a threat to Press Freedom. Journalists the world over (even those who hate him), are as good as unanimous on this. So, we find it strange and rather ironic that the exhibition «We Are Millions» was removed a few days ago from the building that houses the apostles of Press Freedom in Norway. Who requested this removal and why? Was it too one sided? Possibly. But why so afraid of the space of disagreement? This is the space where discussions grow; where we can air our differences of opinion and cultivate clarity. Personally, I think a debate is in order… that is the civilized way to go about things, not censorship. But perhaps this is all just a misunderstanding, in which case we are all ears.” – AFK
On the very same day it was made clear that the owners had changed their mind due to the pressure and the exhibition was invited back to Media City.
“Of course we agree on freedom of expression and artistic freedom being central principles in Norwegian society. Based on media reactions and direct inquiries, we at Compass and Entra have now reconsidered the matter. The artist AFK is therefore invited back to show the current exhibition here at Media City Bergen, which he has confirmed that he will do”, – Compass Group and Entra in a joint Press Release.
The newspaper Bergens Tidende had the following comment:
«One of the reactions to the removal came from the artist AFK himself, by creating a work of art placed at the so called ‘Listhaug-corner’ in Bergen. Covering the figure in this new artwork is the word “Censored?” on a red background. It is very unfortunate that this question can be asked about the exhibition at Media City Bergen. Media City Bergen is the country’s largest Media cluster. Here we find BT, NRK, BA, TV2 (edit.: all major national media institutes) and the Institute of Information and Media Science at the University of Bergen. In a building of this sort, there should be a high acceptance for the right to express oneself. It was particularly problematic that Entra would not clarify the reasons to remove the exhibition. They point out that they have received “some reactions”, as BA writes. Entra now emphasizes that it was not pressure coming from the building’s tenants that led to the exhibition being removed. While it is on the positive side that this clarification came, it could well have come faster. It is of the highest importance that the public can feel confident that the editors and the academic environment of Media City Bergen are not afraid of controversial statements. Both art and journalism must be free».
AFK made the following statement:
“Just to clarify, we (the local artist collective) will be reinstating the exhibition “We are millions” at Media City Bergen. It is not an AFK exhibition, but rather an exhibition by the millions of people who support it… I am just one of them. Those responsible for its removal have changed their minds (possibly due to public pressure?) and we are awaiting an answer to our request for a public debate/event at Media City Bergen. We commend everyone who has upheld their ethical principles over the past few days and look forward to others joining the discussion.” – AFK
In the aftermath, AFK’s protest piece vanished from the street.
The art collective reassembled the exhibition at Media City Bergen.
A debate was held at Media City Bergen on the 22nd of August 2019. The event was opened by La Republica journalist and wikileaks expert Stefania Maurizi. Various media organisations were invited to attend and participate but they could not be present that evening.
The outdoor exhibition at Lillelungegaardsvann is still standing (october 2019) and #WeAreMillions is growing daily.
by Trine Camilla Rygh