Art is censored for many reasons, from politics to economics. Having been censored myself, my sympathies are with those artists who experience it. It takes months or years to create a body of work, and having it withdrawn from the public marketplace is the worst insult it can sustain.
The British artist calling herself Mimsy is working under a pseudonym because she is worried about being beheaded for her anti-ISIS stance. Twenty years ago, this would have been an absurd concern, but such is our reality.
Mimsy created a series of seven lightbox tableaux made with a line of children’s figurines called Sylvanian Families. These look like Beatrix Potter characters. They were developed in Japan, which in itself is a neat reference to the global roots of our terrorism problem.
In the tableaux, quaint animals are displayed in traditional activities—in school, at the beach, picnicking—while an army of black-clad mice and rabbits advance menacingly. The work’s familiarity and simplicity allows the dark overtones to sneak up on you before you’ve guarded yourself against reaction. It is effective visual art.
Nevertheless, it has been removed from the show on the advice of the police. Faced with an additional-security bill of £36,000 ($55,000 US), the Board of Directors of the Mall Galleries folded and pulled Mimsy’s works. Instead they trotted out the usual castings of vaginas and labia and sculpted chains. Yawn.
The gallery’s statement seems disingenuous, seeing as the work was juried in: “To our shock the highlighted work was humorously mocking the despised terrorist organisation that causes suffering to many, not only in the Middle East, but also here, in Europe and the America.”
It’s sad to see such pusillanimity in a nation that was once so stalwart. If work critical of ISIS can’t be shown in London, terrorism really has won.