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Censorship of Tanja Ostojić’s Art project at the Q21 Exhibition Space in MQ (Vienna, Austria)

June 9, 2016

The main issues targeted by Tanja Ostojić’s art project, affected by the censorship, just to list some, are: politics of language, no access to high culture for minorities and working class, no access to museum collections for former Yugoslavian and former Eastern European artists, de-politicization of topical political issues via the exhibition program, neoliberal exhibition production.

In regard to the exhibition GAST/ARBEITER (Working title?)

that is supposed to be opened around July 5, 2016 in the

freiraum Q21 exhibition space in MQ Vienna, Austria

exhibition curator Bogomir Doringer

Artists withdrawing from participation in the exhibition: Tanja Ostojić (Berlin/Belgrade) and Alexander Nikolić with his Verein BOEM Vienna.

Statement by Tanja Ostojić

As of May 25, 2016, and regarding the censorship of my art work, the non-transparent exhibition concept, the non-transparent exhibition budget, the neoliberal exhibition production, the non professional treatment and constant demands for reframing and changes to my art work, I have resigned from my participation in the exhibition GAST/ARBEITER (Working title?) that is supposed to open around July 5, 2016 in the freiraum Q21 exhibition space in MQ Vienna, Austria. Strangely, I can´t precisely name either the name of the exhibition or the venue, as they seem to be in the process of being renamed. 

This is not the first censorship of my artworks in Vienna. Many might remember the removal of my art work Untitled / After Courbet (L´origine du monde, 46 x 55 cm), 2004 (Colour photo, 46 x 55 cm , Photo: David Rych, Copyright: Ostojić/ Rych) from the rotating billboards in the public spaces in Vienna as of December 29, 2005. Back then, the yellow press created a scandal and politicians made pressures on exhibition curators to take my work out of the exhibition in public space. So the curators followed the instructions of the politicians…

This time, I am not sure what kind of mechanisms have been applied in the background of the attempts to censor my art work. The curator seemed to be optimistic and sympathetic with my concept proposal at first, but after while he would always come up (after consultation with those responsible in the gallery which is a extremely representative space politically) with demands to reframe my work and insisted on limiting it to the gallery space solely. No publicity! Even though I was promised space for the work that has a form of the exhibition posters on the outside door of the gallery and in newspapers as an ad at first, it was forbidden some weeks later.

I think it is important to mention that the curator never sent the written concept of the exhibition, nor the conditions of my participation, nor the budget frame. All the communication happened through Facebook chats and Skype talks. Once I sent my written project proposal to the curator, the head of the gallery and the Initiative Minderheiten (my proposal of a partner institution), the curator got angry. He said I should have sent it only to him, and only after he found out if he could finance it, he would communicate it with others. Everything was based on secrecy and non-transparency. 

I even learned by chance that the minister of interior affairs, Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian politician who advocates strongly for closed borders and harsher immigration laws, is a speaker at the opening. The whole event seems to be more like a bad PR Campaign idea than something critical. I believe that as participating artist I should have the right to know what are political goals of the show that I was invited to be part of, right?

And so this censorship in Q21 is partly the result of political issues and partly of neoliberal exhibition production where they don´t offer anything to the artist anymore, but they still want to have the glamour.. a SHOW…

The topic I have dealt with is one of the major problems in Austrian culture that includes segregation, especially regarding the former Yugoslavian and Turkish populations.. 

Main issues, just to list some, are: no access to high culture for minorities and working class, no access to museum collections for former Yugoslavian and former Eastern European artists, politics of language, de-politicization of burning political issues via the exhibition program, neoliberal exhibition production..

First, my artwork concept proposed a cultural project on a large scale dealing with the politics of language, access to culture, access to cultural institutions, access to museum collections, and the  initiation of language pluralism in Austria, etc.. —  involving ministries and museums. However,  the  Austrian minister of culture himself told me already in January (over an informal conversation at the MQ New Year Party) that there was NO WAY. All “immigrants have to learn German and integrate”, there will be no museum signs and no guided tours in our languages. For the campaign that I wanted to initiate on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the agreement for recruiting and placement of guest workers between Yugoslavia and Austria, the curator told me (in the name of hosting institution Q21) — they cannot finance and cannot support in any way, not even with infrastructure. And so this campaign I had to reframe into my own performance work that would be in the same time training for local museum guiding tours in Serbian and familiar languages to run all along the summer.

Several weeks after this strategy was defined and decided for, the curator informed me that it´s out of the budget limits. They can´t pay for my trip, they can´t cover fees for the people involved (as I insisted that students giving the guiding tours should not be volunteers, etc.)  Those critical guided tours would for example explain what positions from the so called ex-Yugoslav art are missing in Viennese Museum collections.

So the only thing that has left after the “plan A” and “plan B” was to go for a strategy of political scandal. Create 3 posters in 3 languages —

As the one I have attached that are using some of my well known works just as an illustration. If you carefully read the text you can understand hopefully that it is a poster with a new work that is not a part of MUMOK‘s feminist collection. There is NO art from ex-Yugoslavia that is a part of MUMOK‘s feminist collection by the way… And there is NO guided tours unfortunately provided by any instance in Vienna in Serbian, Romani, Bosnian, Slovenian, Croatian, Macedonian, Albanian and Montenegrin languages (Sundays in Viennese museums). And not to mention that the ministries and institutions I listed are not marking in a proper way, but are rather ignoring this anniversary and the fact that over 30% of the Viennese population speaks Serbian and only signage on public toilets can be found in this language!!!.)

The curator, claimed  all the time that there is no budget for anything. No artist fees, no production, no travel costs, nothing. I presume, but I can not confirm, that most of the exhibition budget, that is too small anyway, has been spent on the curator‘s own travel costs. He travels a lot, you know. And a lot has been maybe spent on his own art production?

It became a problem as well that my posters were supposed to hang in front of the gallery and to be published in magazines, not even as a sponsored ad.. I was not allowed to use logos of venues mentioned in my ad and media that would fit the concept. The organizers and curator did not even contact any of institutions nor media that I asked that we need as project partners. And they said posters can´t hang outside. They said they don´t have money for newspaper and magazine ads. They prohibited I use the logos of institutions as part of my concept. Imagine, the curator also refused to print posters inside the gallery in the size the graphic designer and I proposed. The curator said the size of my posers will depend on the exhibition design and the budget(!), which I thought was disrespectful to my artistic concept. In my opinion the art work comes before the exhibition design and before politicians who censor exhibitions and give problematic opening speeches.

My concept was too critical and that´s why it didn’t fit in the exhibition. I got the impression the curator was very scared of it and the venue itself.

All in all, for all the critical projects that were proposed (including the seminar that has been canceled as well!!!) they claimed there was no budget. Even though people already invested time in planing, preparing, etc.. Very strange, as we were planning and preparing projects for a long time, myself for instance for 5 months..always reframing it for less budget, and less.. of course no artist fees were available, etc..

Statement by Alexander Nikolić:

Boem was also asked to exhibit, and the curator visited us in our gallery. He explained a little bit of the exhibition, that he is interested only in new works, and that he would love our participation, but during that talk – he explained to us that he has no production money;  all the production money would be reserved for the visiting artists, as he aimed to open up and re-interpret the term “gastarbeiter.”(migrant workers) We rejected this idea, because it blurred the history of migrant workers, covered up the two class society and presented Austria as an open, cosmopolite society – conscious of its past, an image which totally contradicts the actual political reality.

Statement by Julia Zaharijević who was supposed to be employed for this exhibition and in the frame of Tanja Ostojić´s project

“I would like to share my case related to the same exhibition. Namely, the curator invited me to participate in the show, to do something with guided tours. He mentioned a couple of times that I would work with Tanja Ostojić on free exhibition guided tours in the Serbian language, as far as I know. However, this was never confirmed, but I would like to add that I know the curator personally, so the fact that the tone sounded more informal was OK to me. The first time we met he said that there was not enough money for the collaboration with Tanja Ostojić. Then, I was invited to work as an exhibition guard and be payed 8 Euro per hour, (max 400 Euro per month), and during my job to also somehow perform. After the talk with Q21, I was turned down, because I am a Serbian citizen and they were not going to issue me a working permit, as they don’t do that, I quote: “für Serbien und so…” (“for Serbia and so…”)”


English translation of the poster

The City of Vienna, The Arts and Culture Division of the Federal Chancellery of Austria, frei_raum Q21, MQ, MUMOK, Museum of Natural History and the ERSTE Foundation

Are celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the agreement for recruiting and placement of guest workers between Yugoslavia and Austria

with the exclusive purchase of several major feminist artworks by Serbian renowned artist Tanja Ostojić, that have had a deep influence on Austrian contemporary art histories. Works have been purchased for the MUMOK feminist collection.

Please join artist talks and free guided tours in Serbian, Romani, Bosnian, Slovenian, Croatian, Macedonian, Albanian and Montenegrin languages every Sunday at all of the above listed museums and galleries!

Media partners: Kosmo, an-schläge, springerin, Camera Austria

Tanja Ostojić:

Untitled / After Courbet (L´origine du monde, 46 x 55 cm), 2004

Colour photo, 46 x 55 cm

Photo: David Rych

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