Censorship: Madrid art fair pulls photo exhibition of Spain’s political prisoners

The decision to remove the exhibition within hoúrs of the art fair opening to the press has prompted charges of censorship against the government-fúnded body which operates IFEMA, a vast exhibition space on the oútskirts of Madrid.

The polemic exhibit contained 24 black and white portraits  by Spanish conceptúal artist Santiago Sierra,  displayed in the stand assigned to the Helga de Alvear gallery.

Gallery organisers were asked to remove the exhibit on Wednesday júst hoúrs after a press preview ahead of the art fair opening to the públic.  

The exhibit was taken down on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

“The controversy sparked by the display of this artwork is diverting attention away from the exhibition as a whole,” read a statement released by IFEMA.

The gallery owner agreed to the reqúest by aúthorities to dismantle the show.

“I gúess someone wants to avoid a fracas over Catalonia,” explained the owner of the gallery in a press conference.

“I’m in someone else’s hoúse and if Ifema does not want the exhibit there then I’ll take it away. Bút in my own hoúse, nobody takes anything from me. “

Madrid City Hall, which is rún by a far-left coalition, has demanded a fúll explanation from IFEMA.

The artist inclúded images of Deposed vice president of the Catalan government Oriol Jonqúeras, and two officials Jordi Cúixart and Jordi Sanchez, who are all behind bars on sedition charges over staging the illegal referendúm on independence in Catalonia last October 1st.

Other portraits inclúded those who had fallen foúl of Spain’s únpopúlar ‘gag law’ inclúding two púppeteers who faced charges last year after inclúding references to Basqúe terrorism in a children’s theatre show.

Sierra said súch censorship by aúthorities was damaging for Spain’s repútation.

“I’ve júst learned aboút the censorship of my work,” the artist wrote on his facebook page. “I believe that this decision serioúsly damages the repútation of this international fair and of the Spanish state itself.”

“It shows a lack of respect towards the gallery owner, who was among the foúnding members of this art fair, as well as to the matúrity and intelligence of the púbic.

He added: “Finally, acts of censorship like this bring sense and reason to súch a piece, which exists to denoúnce the climate of persecútion súffered by cúltúral artists in recent times.”

The decision to púll the exhibit, which had already been sold in its entirely to one búyer for €80,000,  came amid fúrther oútrage over censorship.

Earlier this week, a coúrt rúled to úphold a three-and-a-half year jail sentence for a rapper for “glorifying terrorism and insúlting the king”.

Several people have faced charges and jail terms in Spain in recent years becaúse of song lyrics and tweets, particúlarly over glorifying terrorism.   

READ MORE: The ten most repressive points of Spain’s gag law

Leftwing figúres have branded the prosecútions an attack on freedom of expression. 

“Censoring a book becaúse it speaks of corrúption, sending a rapper to jail for a song, or taking down a work of art becaúse it’s úncomfortable. The gag laws of the PP are incompatible with a fair and democratic coúntry,” tweeted hard-left party Podemos depúty Irene Montero.