'Cancel culture' show in Warsaw stirs controversy

·2-min read
Swedish artist Dan Park refers to the Holocaust in some of his work (AFP/JANEK SKARZYNSKI)

Jewish groups have issued an open letter voicing criticism of an exhibition opening in Warsaw on Friday that includes works by the Swedish artist Dan Park, who has been convicted for hate speech.

One of Park's works on display at the "Political Art" show depicts the Norwegian right-wing extremist killer Anders Behring Breivik as a fashion model for the Lacoste clothing brand.

"We do not agree to support for people who spread hatred, intolerance and hostility," read the letter signed by, among others, Poland's chief rabbi Michael Schudrich and Zygmunt Stepinski, director of the POLIN museum of the history of Polish Jews.

The letter said it was "astonishing and sad" that Park should be featured in an exhibition.

"In Poland -- a country where as a result of Nazi policy six million citizens were killed -- the activities of such creators as Dan Park insults the feelings of all Poles," it said.

Park has been convicted several times for his provocative words and actions, including in 1996 when he wore a bomber jacket featuring a swastika, bearing the words 'Heil Hitler' and 'SS' and the skull-and-crossbones Totenkopf symbol.

He told the court he wore it as a provocation, not because he sympathised with Nazism.

Park is popular with far-right movements.

The exhibition at the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art is described by organisers as a celebration of free speech and a platform for artists who fall victim to "cancel culture".

"Artists who contradict these tendencies and advocate unrestrained expression and anti-mainstream ideas often pay the highest price for testing the limits of tolerance and confronting political dogmas," the museum said.

The museum's director Piotr Bernatowicz was installed in 2019 by Poland's populist right-wing ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS) -- a controversial appointment that drew accusations of the government attempting to coopt cultural institutions into its conservative agenda.

The show, which is funded by the Polish culture ministry, features 28 artists, including Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, who in 2007 sparked controversy with his drawing of Muslim Prophet Mohammad.

He has been the target of several attempted assaults, the latest in Copenhagen in February 2015 during a conference dubbed "Art, blasphemy and freedom".

The exhibition also includes a conceptual art project by Danish artist Kristian von Hornsleth, who paid 340 impoverished villagers in Uganda to legally change their names to "Hornsleth".

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