I am in Copenhagen at the moment – of which more anon. But before fleeing these shores I had time to pop in to see something I want to recommend to any readers in the London area.
For the rest of this weekend you can still see the 2015 Passion for Freedom exhibition at the Mall Galleries, just by Trafalgar Square. This is the festival’s seventh year and it is going from strength to strength. The exhibition has a simple mission – which is to display the work of artists who are thinking seriously about freedom, what it means and how you lose it. In previous years the organisers have run into a bit of trouble with the cultural commissars of our time. In 2013 Nick Cohen wrote here about the cowardice of gallery owners who refused to exhibit the the festival’s works because of ‘safety’ fears. I have gone to most of the recent years and this year is the best by a long way.
It seems wrong to pick out any particular piece from an exhibition of artists – mainly female – from around the world. The artwork includes a piece by the young female Iranian artist Atena Farghadani, currently imprisoned for the ‘crime’ of making art deemed unflattering of the Iranian regime. There is something incredibly moving about the fact that while she sits in jail in Iran her work is being exhibited just down the road from Buckingham Palace.
As well as a lot of artists from the Middle East there is a preponderance of work this year – as there should be – from Ukranian artists. Dmity Iv’s ‘The Need for Freedom’ is one of the most impressive sculpture’s I’ve seen in years – a girl’s body made out of welding more than 4,000 steel chains floating or writhing in mid air, and still defying gravity. There is work that is familiar, and work which is strange. A portrait of Rostropovich is hung just by an installation addressing the issue of girls abducted from countries like ours to be forced to marry abroad. The work is all bold and actually addresses what most art these days only pretends to address – the real and urgent issues of our time.
But if there was one other work which stuck with me it was Glenn Fitzpatrick’s ‘Contextual Restriction Produces an Empty Magazine’, a machine gun made out of emptied pens. After a terrible year for freedom of speech, including some dishonest posing by most of the world’s leaders, Passion for Freedom celebrates the people who not only do it, but who mean it. Go if you can – and do give as generously as possible.