Protest and withdrawal of exhibition due to censorship at the Cultural Centre of Belgrade
“Kamerades”, a collective of documentary photographers from Serbia, decided to close down the exhibition of their works at the gallery of the city of Belgrade’s cultural center on March 15, five days after the opening. With the publicly announced withdrawal of their work they protested against the censorship of an integral part of the exhibition, after four posters had been disappeared from the show on March 14.
More than hundred cultural workers and citizens followed the call of the authors circulated through several internet platforms of the cultural scene and other media to take part in taking off the photographs from the walls of the Artget Gallery. In front of the gathered crowd and journalists artistic director Ivana Tomanović and members of the photographers collective stated that under these circumstances the exhibition titled “Dirty Season – Uncensored” becomes pointless.
Four photographs of overpainted posters of the election campaign 2012 had been removed without consultation with the authors and directors of the program section of the Belgrade Cultural Center (KCB). The depicted posters, integral part of the exhibition that critically examines the visuals and rhetoric of election campaigns in Serbia, had been mounted on the inner side of the gallery’s window front and such been visible from the street.
Ivona Jevtić, director of the Belgrade Cultural Center, denied censorship in a written statement of March 15 and called the situation a misunderstanding. She explained that for a display in the window a permission of the monument preservation office is obligatory. She added that she had informed the program director about the attained permission to mount the cyrillic lettering of the institution’s name on the window front, in place of the posters.
Regarding the censorship at Artget Gallery, several organizations of the cultural scene have reacted with official statements. The Independent Cultural Scene of Serbia (NSSK) called for a boycott of the Artget gallery and appealed to the city authorities to change the director of the Belgrade Cultural Center. The National Council of Culture condemned the interference into the exhibition as impermissible act of censorship instructed by the director of the Belgrade Cultural Center Ivona Jevtic. The Serbian PEN center called on the public to show solidarity with the programming team of the Cultural Centre of Belgrade and the authors of the censored exhibition and demanded the director’s instant change.
The act of censorship instructed by the director of a cultural institution is one example of how high the pressure on cultural workers in public institutions has become in recent years in Serbia. Additionally to the austerity measures imposed by the neoliberal reforms, cultural workers at public institutions and cultural production in general are confronted with political decisions by the authorities that are threatening the institutional autonomy and professional integrity of their institutions.
In 2013, over 800 cultural workers had gathered to protest against budget cuts (https://art-leaks.org/2013/06/23/artists-and-cultural-workers-stage-massive-protests-in-serbia/). The last director of the Belgrade Cultural Center, Mia David, had been dismissed through illegitimate procedure in 2014. (http://www.blic.rs/kultura/vesti/mia-david-dosli-ste-da-me-izbacite-na-najgrublji-nacin-postujte-zakon/mbbgkgl). She was also responsible for the October Salon (www.oktobarskisalon.org), the biggest manifestation of contemporary art, which was organized annually by Belgrade Cultural Center since 1960. Against the protest of the cultural scene, the October Salon was reduced by the city authorities to a biennial manifestation in 2014, without consultation with representatives of the cultural sector ( https://art-leaks.org/2014/10/29/stop-the-october-salon-massacre-belgrade-serbia/ ).
Cultural Centre of Belgrade Program sector statement on the termination of the exhibition “Dirty Season – Uncensored” by the photo collective Kamerades before its closing date:
Cultural Centre of Belgrade Program sector supports the decision made by the photo collective Kamerades to terminate their exhibition “Dirty Season – Uncensored” before its closing date. This exhibition was opened at the Artget gallery in the Cultural Centre of Belgrade on March 10th 2016. We, workers in culture, are bound by our professional standards to open spaces for artists/artistic groups and other authors and not to stifle or limit cultural production. To support freedom of expression, critical thinking and respect integrity of an artistic work are values that form the very foundations of cultural and artistic institutions. We are against the decision and actions of the acting director of the Cultural Centre Belgrade Ms. Ivona Jevtić to censor the exhibition Dirty Season – Uncensored by partially removing its contents. These actions, that we haven’t been notified of, have caused the exhibition to close before its closing date.