Response to an open letter signed by the representatives of Jewish organizations and Jewish community in Warsaw
Warsaw, 26 August 2021
To the representatives of Jewish organizations and Jewish community in Warsaw
In response to your letter expressing protest against the inclusion of Dan Park’s artworks in the exhibition Political Art at the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, I would like to quote the words of the outstanding Polish art historian and my late professor, Piotr Piotrowski:
“Art is a rather particular type of expression. This is not to say that art should enjoy privileges at the expense of other styles of expression. Not at all. As a human right, freedom is indivisible: it either exists or it does not. If it does exist, then everyone, not just artists, but also those whose statements can hardly be considered as cultured, can exercise this right. Freedom of expression cannot be purely aesthetic. That is not the point. The point is that art uses symbolic language to a greater extent than other forms of expression and, what is more, art disrupts commonly accepted conventions. Symbolism and flouting conventions constitute the value of art, but are also the source of conflict, especially in conservative, closed, and poorly educated societies. On the other hand, art presents society with a chance to take a closer look at its surroundings, to penetrate deeper into the essence of reality.”
To me, these words are the motto of the Political Art exhibition, which is primarily concerned with creative freedoms that, today, are at threat. However, this threat does not come from “conservative, closed, and poorly educated” circles, as Piotrowski wrote. Instead, it comes from the well-educated circles and elites that, rather than engaging in dialogue with artistic attitudes that seem surprising or offensive, prefer to expunge them from the public sphere. Unfortunately, this is how I interpret the message of your letter — as a call to censor the exhibition, even before it had opened.
I will not bow to this call and I will not remove Dan Park’s artworks from the exhibition. I do not accept the argument that no “decent person” should be able to see this artist’s work. On the contrary, I believe that we should confront anything that worries, irritates, or offends us. Art institutions give us an opportunity to do just that — they are a platform for discussion, debate, and confronting our views. I fully agree with the appeal “to not be indifferent” mentioned in your letter. For me, this means a need to take on the challenge of confronting the painful and the difficult — escaping such issues would amount to censorship.
The exhibition, co-curated by Jon Erik Lundberg and I, features 28 artists from various countries: Venezuela, Iraq/Denmark, Sweden, Iran/Great Britain, China, Yemen/Great Britain, the United States, Ukraine. Israeli artist Marc Provisor also takes part in the exhibition. He finds Park’s work controversial and even offensive, but this does not stop him from presenting his own works at the exhibition, and he did not demand that Park’s artworks be removed. On the contrary, Provisor sees the exhibition as an opportunity to engage in a discussion with Park.
I believe that dialogue and confronting one’s own beliefs is a much better way to participate in culture than to censor and erase uncomfortable art. I encourage you to do so and I invite you to the opening of the exhibition and an open conversation about the artworks.
- Piotr Bernatowicz
- Director of the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art
- co-curator of Political Art exhibition