The stone feels good in your hand. It is neither too heavy nor too light. You could throw it far.
Most people look confused when they come down the narrow cellar stairs in Union Street, London and at the entrance to the gallery are given a stone.
But they do as they are asked — take the stone with them — while sipping white wine and viewing the art on display at the Passion For Freedom exhibition.
Halfway thru the gallery they realize the point.
On a pillar, Article 102 of the Iranian penal code is displayed.
It describes how unfaithful spouses should be stoned to death, and what the ideal stone looks like.
It must not be too small and not too big. The process of killing shouldn’t be too fast.
The artwork is called “The Perfect Stone” and, like many other works in the Passion For Freedom exhibition, it has a clear reference to Islam.
The references to Islam are no coincidence, says one of the organizers, Marianna Fox.
“We have asked the artists to relate to the concept of freedom and how easy it is to lose it. With that topic it is very difficult to ignore Islam — both globally but also here in the UK, where Islamism is gaining ground, and we therefore see censorship and hate speech laws.
“That being said, there are also many other works that do not refer to Islam. We try to focus on all threats to freedom, which we believe is severely under pressure.”
The point that Islam poses a threat to freedom is not an exaggeration. Just two days before the opening, the organizers, which also included the organization One Law For All, had an unpleasant experience.
Marianna Fox received an email from the owner of the gallery with whom they had signed a contract. The email showed indirectly that she had been threatened and that she feared “being killed by gentlemen from the Religion of Peace,” as she put it.
Then they had to quickly find another venue, and luckily it turned out fine, says Marianna Fox.
“This is the fifth consecutive year we have had the exhibition, and there’s obviously someone who does not like it. But for us it only shows that what we do is important. We are not afraid and we do not have any choice. The ball is rolling and it’s just a matter of time before our freedom of speech disappears forever. We need to respond to that.”
Not afraid of being called racist
Several of the artists are very explicit in their criticism of Islam. For example, Matthew E. Sun, who not only shows a picture of Muhammad, but also criticizes him. You are not afraid of being called racists?
“No, not at all, we have both Muslims and blacks among our exhibitors. This is not about race, but about freedom. We have feminist art that criticize capitalism and we have art that criticizes the situation of homosexuals in Poland, to name just a few examples. Many of the artists have not been able to show their art in other places, so we see it as our job to give them a platform here in London.”
Whips the Quran
Out of hundreds of submitted works, a panel of judges selected the 34 pieces that are now exhibited.
One of those is from Danish-Iranian Firoozeh Bazrafkan, who came to Denmark when she was five years old. Her parents fled from a theocracy that — to put it mildly — has a strained relationship with freedom.
During the vernissage on 2 November, the audience could see a video installation in which Firoozeh Bazrafkan was jump-roping on a picture of the Iranian revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Khomeini.
The installation was a comment on the massive oppression of women that followed the revolution.
In another video, she whipped The Quran 99 times — one of the Quranic punishments for adultery.
Finally, Firoozeh Bazrafkan made a live performance at the vernissage.
Standing at a podium in the middle of the gallery — and with her head covered in seven islamic veils, she fought her way back to freedom. With the aid of a pair of scissors.
“I do not want to see Europe Islamized, so I try to point out some negative things in Islam,” said Bazrafkan afterwards.
“Prophets” is the name of another work that attracted much attention. In the collage, you see Jesus and Muhammad side by side. Jesus is hanging on the cross, while Muhammad is standing tall flanked by texts such as “Fragile” and “Handle With Care.”
The artist, Matthew E. Sun, explains:
“The work is a comment on the big difference in respect of the two religions. The contrast is interesting: Jesus, hanging on the cross and feeling abandoned by his God, and Muhammad, who is strong and mighty and yet demands to be protected in every possible way.”
A third work by Katarina Uzakova focuses on certain cultures’ tradition of marriage at a very early age. The work was called “My Little Wedding Dress,” and measured about 60 x 40 centimeters.
Finally, several of the artists were rewarded with a prize. One of them went to the documentary “Silent Conquest,” describing Islam’s growing influence in the West.
The director could not be present at the exhibition. Instead one of the persons interviewed in the film, the president of the Danish Free Press Society, Lars Hedegaard, accepted the prize.