An Australian artist accused a group of conservative advisers of using “intimidation strategies” to silence and censor her work after a facility she created to emphasize “the identity of a colonial nuclear state” of Great Britain was removed from a park in Essex.
The advisers threatened to “take action against the work” if it was not withdrawn, according to Metal, the arts organization that commissioned and then removed the installation from Gunners Park in Southend.
Gabriella Hirst’s An english garden made up of benches and a row of flower beds planted with Atom Bomb roses, a rare variety of rose created at the height of the Cold War arms race in 1953, alongside the irises of the Cliffs of Dover.
A plaque on the bench explained this and highlighted the assembly, at a nearby site, of Britain’s first atomic bomb and the devastation caused by its detonation on unceded native land in Australia. The plaque also said Britain continues to proliferate nuclear weapons, following the government’s decision to lift a 30-year ban on the development of new nuclear weapons this year and increase its nuclear weaponry by 40%. He described the country as having a “historical and continuing identity as a colonial nuclear state”.
On social media, Hirst said she and Metal, who co-commissioned the installation with artists’ charity Old Waterworks, were given a 48-hour ultimatum to remove the work before advisers plan to intervene to censor the “offending” plate. . She added that the advisers threatened them to subject them to a national media campaign that would present the work as “a direct far-left attack on our history, our people and our democratically elected government.” She wrote: “Apparently the said government and its nuclear arsenal on a global scale were not considered robust enough to withstand the dissemination of historical facts and criticism through a rose garden art installation. “
James Moyies, one of Southend’s Tory advisers who opposed it, told the Observer the plaque was “offensive”. His two main objections were: “Using public money on public land to display a left-wing rant that accused our current government of investing in hate industries rather than caring”; and “attack our country as currently being a colonial nuclear state”. “The rest of the text contains other contentious statements that I don’t like, but those are the two main reasons why it had to be changed or deleted.”
Moyies, a Brexiter who was regional director of the Vote Leave campaign in 2016, added that if Metal had not complied with his request, “I planned to act by pasting a piece of laminated paper with a different message to side of the offensive plate. . I planned to have national coverage. He said he believed the issue had been resolved “amicably”.
Metal said in a statement that it decided to withdraw the work after being subjected to “intense pressure” over a 48-hour period by the group of advisers. The Old Waterworks said it was “shocked, appalled and incredibly disappointed” by the actions of the advisers, but understood Metal’s decision.
Colette Bailey, artistic director of Metal, told the Observer she believes what the advisers did amount to censorship: “The threat to draw media attention to their profound misreading and interpretation of the work was part of their campaign to increase pressure on sponsors and artistic partners.
She said the launch of such a media campaign would have exposed the advisers’ “fundamental misinterpretation” of the work and distorted its “real meaning”, and decided to withdraw it to protect sanity and the good. -being of his staff any problems that might arise from the actions of the advisers.
In response, Moyies said, “The idea that anyone needs to protect their well-being or their sanity is nonsense. It was a few benches and flower beds, in a meadow park, with an offensive plaque.
Hirst, who said she understood Metal’s decision but disagreed with it, said the work critically reflected Britain’s nuclear and colonial heritage. “When the correspondence between Metal and the advisers was passed to me, I was in disbelief at the intimidation strategies used to silence my works,” she told the Observer. “It is alarming that a space for criticism and reflection can be suppressed at the request of a small number of advisers, to silence a statement which they find disturbing. I am stunned by the implication that art should not be able to examine subjects such as British colonialism and nuclear weaponry.
She added that veterans who were present during the British nuclear test program in the 1950s and 1960s expressed their indignation at the work’s censorship: “I am not the only one to find the realities, the stories. and the future of overwhelming and frightening nuclear weapons. And for me, this work of art, including its signage, benches, plants – everything that was part of this installation – is an expression of trying to work on a big subject via a bed of roses, to keep a space to work on subjects that are still shrouded in fear and secrecy even today.
Southend Council Labor leader Ian Gilbert said the council did not fund the exhibition and did not manage the park. “Basically it is not a council decision, which is why I think it is so inappropriate that [opposition] the advisers exerted that pressure.
He regrets that Metal felt there was a need to pull the work out and said the board plans to meet with the organization and discuss a way forward. “I don’t believe in censorship of art, and I think you’re on a slippery slope if you think artists aren’t allowed to say anything that criticizes the government of the day.”
Moyies denied the allegations of threatening behavior or intimidation and said he had not been in direct contact with Hirst. He added that the land is owned by the council but is leased to Essex Wildlife Trust.