The London art festival Passion For Freedom will take place from 5th to 15th November at the Embassy Tea Gallery (near Tate Modern). The festival is an exhibition of brave artists who have tried to answer three questions through
their art: What is freedom? How easy is it to lose? How hard is it to get it back?
– Which stone do you choose? – The question is posed by a young, smiling girl
welcoming a guest at the entrance to the Passion For Freedom art exhibition.
The question is both surprising and confusing. The guest needs to be asked one more
time and prompted – Choose the one you like the most.
The girl is holding a jute sack filled with stones the size of a fist. She
offers one to the guest, encouraging him with a smile. Find a place where this
stone belongs – the girl suggests. The guest begins to understand. Now he
realises that this is a game, that he is involved in a performance, and the clue
to the riddle must be found within the gallery.
He finds a pile of similar stones near one of the gallery walls. Above them
there is a tablet hanging, with a fragment of the law code of The Islamic
Republic of Iran, which says that adultery in that country is a crime. The
punishment is stoning to death.
Iranian law clearly specifies the size of the stone that can be used as a tool
to inflict the death penalty. It cannot be too big, as the idea is not to kill a
convict at the first or second hit; however, it cannot be too small to be called
a stone. The guest realizes that the particular stone he is holding in his hand
would be a perfect weapon to perform an execution.
A sinister piece by the artist Victoria Burgher entitled ‘’The Perfect Stone’’
got the first prize at last year’s 5th Passion For Freedom art festival. The
artist received the title of ‘’Freedom Ambassador 2014’’. This year’s exhibition
takes place from 5th to 15th November at the Embassy Tea Gallery, near the Tate
Modern in the heart of London.
Passion For Freedom was conceived by a group of Polish women living in London.
They are friends, artists, art-lovers, and independent ladies for whom freedom
is the highest value. Today the festival draws upon a network of friends from
around the world. Among the enthusiasts there are activists, freedom fighters,
artists, and professionals from different fields all working as volunteers for
the project. So far the event has been supported financially solely by friends
and amateurs. It is a unique initiative where common ideals and friendship are
the main driving forces.
The actual event is primarily an exhibition of artwork from famous artists
chosen by a selection panel and a competition in which submitted works will be
awarded. This year the artists will be judged by: Gary Hill – one of the
pioneers of American visual arts; Sarah Maple – according to critics, one of the
bravest young British modern artists; Deeyah – called ‘’The Muslim Madonna’’ by
the media, an Iranian pop star, feminist and activist, who in 2013 received an
Emmy award for the film ‘’Banaz: A love story’’; and Lee Weinberg – an
Israeli-born academic, art-curator, writer, and lecturer at Goldsmiths
University in London. This year, for the first time, in addition to the mediums
of sculpture, photography, painting, film and installation, there will also be a
selection of books and recognition of journalists.
The London festival is a unique collection of artworks from artists from around
the world who are not afraid to raise taboo subjects – even if that means
encountering political incorrectness. So far the event has gained recognition
and support from many artists persecuted for their work. Amongst them are:
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei who repeatedly fell into disfavour with the Communist
authorities, was imprisoned and is not allowed to contact media; Jafar Panahi –
an Iranian film director frequently arrested for activities against The Islamic
Republic of Iran; Firoozeh Bazrafkan – a Danish artist of Iranian origin,
accused of racism after she publicly criticised Islam; and Johan van der Dong –
a Dutchman, whose art questioning religion is not exhibited by European
galleries because they fear terrorists attacks.
Some of the artists participating at the festival hide under pseudonyms in fear
of punishment – not only such us being deprived of the possibility to create
art, but even imprisonment or in extreme cases the death penalty. Is it a
realistic risk? In fact it is better to be safe than sorry. Last year the
gallery which had annually hosted the festival withdrew from the contract
because of unspecified ’security issues’, barely two days before the opening of
As argued by the founders of Passion For Freedom, incidents like these indicate
how important it is to stand up and protect our freedom. The festival is a
rebellion against the breaking of human rights, including freedom of speech and
sexual equality. The artists argue that there is no religion or political regime
which could excuse or justify the enslavement of an individual or a social
group. Those who have a genuine passion for freedom, whose only weapon is art,
appeal for attention and active objection against totalitarian regimes and
systems, including religion, where they are violently used to control and abuse
The organisers quote Ai Weiwei: ‘Freedom is like air. You do not see it and do
not appreciate it until you begin to lose it.’’ They treat art as a weapon in
fighting for freedom, which they claim is a key factor determining the
development of civilisation. Why did they decide to get involved in this kind of
battle? Art reaches the heart directly, awakes feelings, provokes thought, and
spurs discussion. In contrast to politics, art has nothing to do with control,
censorship, and personal gain. And this is precisely why art is genuine.