Emory Douglas, The Ideas Which Can And Will Sustain Our Movement, 1970, Center for the Study of Political Graphics, Los Angeles

From the 18th of December 2010 to the 17th of March 2011 – Kunstverein, Hamburg

The exhibition “Freedom of Speech” questions and analyses the concept of freedom of speech and the ideological role it plays in Western democracy. Everything revolves around the question: What if only those who say the truth are allowed to speak? What consequences does the freedom of expression have for our society? How and where is this freedom instrumentalized? Justified questions, that would also have been apt in connection with the debate about Thilo Sarrazin’s book and his racist comments in the media. However, this controversy also manifested itself in the cartoon dispute in 2005, when a right-wing Danish daily newspaper published the so-called “Muhammad cartoons.” The ensuing conflict and the Iranian reaction in the form of a “Holocaust cartoon competition” provoked a public discussion on civil rights and liberties – the freedom of speech, expression, and the press – and truth.

The exhibition confronts examples of media reports (e.g., the “Muhammad cartoonss” or the controversial covers of Hustler, Stern, or Spiegel), historical events (e.g., the Black Power and Free Speech movements in the USA), as well as artistic positions.

With the collaboration of the Duisburger Institut für Sprach- und Sozialforschung (Duisburg Institute of Linguistic and Social Research, DISS), the truth value of the works are examined by means of critical discourse analysis. This form of analysis developed by the DISS on the basis of the theories and writing of Michel Foucault is applied like a film over the linguistic and pictorial levels of the collected media reports and works of art. That the works of art become objects of analysis is unique in this form but takes account of the fact that they also play an important role in constituting everyday knowledge and therefore also need to be considered.

Apart from works addressing the universal right to freedom of expression (e.g., the works “Prohibited Imports” by Maria Eichhorn or “Wollt ihr das totale Bild” by Klaus Staeck), the exhibition shows works that in content or form sound out the limits and possibilities of freedom of expression and speech (e.g., “Turkish Delight” by Olaf Metzel or “bürgersteig” by Silke Wagner). In the context of the exhibition, “State Britain” by the Turner Prize winner Mark Wallinger is being shown for the first time in Germany. The 40-metre-long installation of demonstration banners, posters, and flags by the anti-war activist Brian Haw fills the entire area of the exhibition space on the first floor of the Kunstverein Hamburg.

“Freedom of Speech” at the Kunstverein Hamburg concludes a trilogy that had begun in December 2009 with the exhibition “Where’s the wind when it isn’t blowing? – Political graphic novels from Albrecht Dürer to Art Spiegelman” and had continued with “We, Hamburg” in March 2010. The three exhibitions, differing strongly in both theme and formal approach, have examined the cultural importance of images, their perception and political function in societal discourses.

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