Lars Vilks: Art – Blasphemy – Freedom
Discussion with participation of Kazimierz Piotrowski, Wolf-Günter Thiel, Piotr Bernatowicz and Jon Eirik Lundberg
Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art invites you to a discussion panel devoted to the figure and art of the recently deceased artist, Lars Vilks, whose works are presented at the Political Art exhibition.
Lars Vilks, a Swedish artist and art theorist, had been living under police protection for 14 years after receiving death threats over a cartoon presented at the 2007 exhibition Dog in Art in one of the Swedish art galleries. It depicted a bearded man in a turban with a body of a fog. The drawing referred to the phenomenon of anonymous sculptures of dogs placed on roundabouts in Swedish cities and to the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad in Danish newspapers. The gallery refused to present the work, and the press publicized the matter.
“This is unacceptable self-censorship. A liberal society must be able to do two things at the same time. On the one hand, it must be able to defend Muslims’ right to freedom of religion and their right to build mosques. However, on the other hand, it is also permissible to ridicule Islam’s most foremost symbols – just like all other religion’s symbols. There is no opposition between these two goals. In fact, it even the case that they presupposed each other” – wrote a journalist from the regional newspaper Nerikes Allehanda.
Soon, matters took an even worse turn for the artist. The Islamic organization charged him with a fatwa, i.e., announced a bounty of 100,000 dollars on his head and an additional 50,000 dollars if he were slaughtered. Since then, several contracted killers have attempted to assassinate Vilks. In February 2015, at the Copenhagen cultural centre, an armed killer attacked during a meeting on freedom of speech; a bystander was killed. It was one of the few public appearances by Lars Vilks. The issue of the fatwa caused him to be marginalized by the art world.
In May 2010, at Uppsala University, the Islamic section of the audience attacked Vilks during a lecture. The police had to intervene. The lecture was interrupted due to the aggressive manner of the Muslim audience.
When Lars Vilks died in a mysterious car accident on 3 October 2021 along with two police bodyguards, online forums swarmed with joyous posts. Sweden’s largest contemporary art gallery, Moderna Museet, issued a statement explaining why the most significant work by Lars Vilks could not be included in their collection.
It seems that the art world greeted the tragic death of Lars Vilks with relief. His case seemed to ridicule the openness to even the most provocative works declared by art institutions. However, this rule does not apply to artworks that treat Islam in a provocative manner.
Likewise, those who are still proud to argue that freedom of speech and expression are still effective in Western democracies were relieved. Vilks’ case made it clear that this was not the case, and Western societies are increasingly sinking into the terror of fear, surrendering freedom for a sense of security.
Does this mean that contemporary art based on transgression has come to an end and that religious censorship is returning with the increasing Islamization of Europe? Has liberal democracy become just a façade, an empty slogan repeated by intimidated politicians?
During the event, we will attempt to answer these and other questions raised by the work of Lars Vilks.
- Kazimierz Piotrowski, PhD, art historian and philosopher
- Wolf-Günter Thiel, art historian and collector
- Hosted by
- Jon Eirik Lundberg, philosopher, Director of Laesoe Art Hall and curator of Political Art exhibition
- Piotr Bernatowicz, art historian and curator of Political Art exhibition