Oct 022011

Jack Persekian’s controversial work as curator for the Sharjah Art Foundation has stirred conversation in the international art community and has received extreme reactions from the Sharjah government. On one hand Persekian has served the artistic community by fostering an environment that allows for freedom of expression using art as a medium. On the other hand, the collected art also led to the removal of Persekian from his position as head curator for the Foundation. One specific piece called It has no Importance by Algerian artist Mustapha Benfodil, was seen as the “straw that broke the camels back” – because it not only included anti-government sentiments, but was perceived by the general public to blatantly condemn the religion of Islam. Persekian’s reaction to his removal was almost apologetic saying, “he didn’t see the work and implied it wouldn’t have been included if he had” (Donley, 2011).

It has no Importance _ Artist: Mustapha Benfodil


In America we enjoy the freedoms of being able to say whatever we want, whenever we want, and about whomever we want – as secured for us in the United States constitution. However, this freedom is expressed even to the most extreme levels and no official can stop it from happening. It can be condemned, but if it is on your own private property, then you can go as far as you’d like. We often see the desecration of religious books, hear people being verbally abused on the street, or even garbage being thrown at our own neighbors. At times the local police are involved, and a warning is given out to those who have expressed their hatred. But nothing more can be done. Some extreme cases of protest have led to equal or if not worse reactions from those who were being criticized.

There is a constant dance between censorship and freedom of speech. Neither one can be allowed to reach an extreme level. As a curator of an art exhibit, how then do you make the decision of what is permissible to be on display, what has not reached a certain threshold of too controversial?


Article by Christine Donley, April 2011