The work by Santiago Sierra, a prominent Spanish contemporary artist, has been removed Wednesday by the International Fair of Contemporary Art in Madrid, or ARCO, to avoid “controversy.”
IFEMA, the fair’s organizing entity censored the piece arguing “the controversy in media outlets generated by the exhibition of these pieces is affecting the visibility of… ARCOmadrid 2018.” IFEMA nevertheless claimed they acted “with the utmost respect for freedom of expression”
The artist’s studio counters the claim, arguing in a public statement “acts of this nature give sense and truth to a piece like this, which precisely denounces the environment of persecution that cultural workers are enduring in the last years.”
Sierra’s piece, Political Prisoners in Contemporary Spain, consists of 24 portraits of people “condemned for their ideas.” Among them are artists like two puppeteers detained for a presentation during Madrid’s carnivals and environmentalist activists.
Political pro-independence figures were also represented, including Oriol Junqueras, former Vice President of the Government of Catalonia, and Jordi Sanchez, member of the National Catalan Assembly and political party Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), and businessman Jordi Cuixart all of whom were imprisoned in 2017 for supporting a popular referendum on Catalan independence, held on Oct. 1, 2017.
Madrid’s mayor, Manuela Carmena did not attend the inauguration of ARCOmadrid Thursday in protest against the decision to remove Sierra’s piece, calling the decision a “regression in democracy.”
On Twitter Carmena expressed her disappointment. “Art helps us understand what’s around us. We don’t agree with the decision made by IFEMA in #ARCOR2018. Freedom of expression is the air that #Democracy breaths,” she wrote from her social media account.
The decision by IFEMA surprised Mayor’s office, which was not consulted in spite of being one of the entity’s stockholders. Rita Maestre, a spokesperson for the city of Madrid said they have summoned an urgent meeting to “rectify the decision.”