Newsha Tavakolian an acclaimed Iranian photojournalist and documentary photographer, and Singapore’s cultural medallion winner Ong Keng Sen have hot out at the Singapore authorities for the unnecessary censorship of works of artistic merits.
Newsha Tavakolian’s work, I Know Why The Rebel Sings, which shows the terror of human conflicts, was exhibited as part of O.P.E.N. a Singapore International Festival of Arts’ (SIFA) pre-festival event on Jun 22, 2016, but not before the Media Development Authority (MDA) asked the organiser to censor 33 photographs just a few days before the exhibition kicked-off.
The Festival Director of the event, Cultural Medallion winner Ong Keng Sen ticked off the MDA for their arbitrary decision at the kick-off of the exhibition.
On 29 June, just before her talk at O.P.E.N., Newsha Tavakolian released the following statement in which she said that she was deeply disappointed with the Singapore authorities for the censorship of her work:
“I am deeply disappointed by the decision of the Singaporean authorities to censor my work.
Omitting images from my exhibition cannot wipe the realities of today’s world from people’s minds. Art, documentary photography and journalism are supposed to create understanding and insight. Even when we disagree with or fear those portrayed.
In Iran, Europe or Singapore, wherever in the world, I trust that those viewing my work are wise enough to interpret it for themselves, without the need of schoolmasters taking them by the hand, telling them what is wrong and what is right.
Thankfully, in 2016, it is easier than ever to access information. Creativity stands at the heart of everything, those who limit it live in the past.
Mr Ong also hit-out at MDA and called its decision “irrational censorship”:
“It is the reality of the present Singapore that we are all subject to censorship by Media Development Authority (MDA).
However it is important for us to request as citizens of Singapore for:
1. official censorship that is transparent and hence accountable.
2. CONSISTENT official censorship which operates rationally.
Directing the national commissioner (the National Arts Council) rather than the Festival, is a top-down instruction which is neither transparent nor accountable to the citizen. SIFA did not receive any official reason directly from MDA as to why the 33 photos from Newsha Tavakolian’s show had to be removed. We read the official reason published in The Straits Times on 24 June 2016. By this time, it is a fact –“ ‘Terror link’ photos removed…Authorities explain why…” This procedure does not give any recourse to the citizen and no dialogue is possible.
Further, these photos have already circulated in Singapore in print in the 13 April 2015 TIME magazine (international edition). This was made known to the MDA as soon as SIFA was told that there were potential issues. Why is it that TIME can distribute these photos in Singapore and now SIFA cannot show these same images in an exhibition?
￼￼￼We deem this to be irrational censorship.”