Rights group says National Art Gallery stifling free speech by removing paintings

File picture shows lawyer Lim Wei Jiet speaking at the ‘Malaysia and Rome Statute’ forum at Universiti Malaya in Kuala Lumpur April 27, 2019. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
File picture shows lawyer Lim Wei Jiet speaking at the ‘Malaysia and Rome Statute’ forum at Universiti Malaya in Kuala Lumpur April 27, 2019. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 10 — The National Human Rights Society (Hakam) criticised the National Art Gallery today for removing four of visual artist Ahmad Fuad Osman’s paintings, calling the move a curb on the freedom of expression.

Hakam secretary-general Lim Wei Jiet said in a statement that the gallery’s decision to remove the artworks amounted to the censorship of artistic expression, which is a right guaranteed by the Constitution.

“Hakam condemns the National Art Gallery’s decision to curtail and censor artistic expression,” he said.

“Freedom of artistic expression is part and parcel of the freedom of speech protected under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.”

The artist earlier today penned an open letter demanding the NAG explain its decision to remove the paintings.

The four artworks were part of an exhibition titled At The End Of The Day Even Art Is Not Important (1990-2019) that started October last year. They were reportedly removed on February 4.

The decision sparked a backlash from the art fraternity and Ahmad Fuad has since asked to close down the entire exhibition in protest.

While the gallery has yet to officially explain the removal, Ahmad Fuad said they previously wrote to inform him they would be doing so due to a complaint from one of their board members, who alleged the pieces were political and obscene.

Lim said politics should not in any way be deemed as “sensitive”, “unsuitable” or “undesirable” in the arts.

“In fact, the arts should readily comment, critique and satirise politics in order to produce an enlightened electorate,” Lim said.

“The National Art Gallery – of all bodies – should hold true to these principles.”

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