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On 11 July, after a trial lasting a year, the Regional Court in Gdañsk found the artist Dorota Nieznalska guilty of insulting religious feelings and sentenced her to six months’ restriction of freedom and community work for charitable organisations and ordered her to pay all the costs of the trial. The subject of dispute between the artist and the radical nationalist party, the League of Polish Families, was her installation “Passion”, in which the artist had placed on an object in the shape of a cross a photograph of a fragment of a naked male body including the genitalia together with the projection of an image of a man’s face in the course of a hard training exercise. The artist has concerned herself for several years with the problem of maleness and of the connection of its models with the Christian paradigm of culture. This work was a natural extension of this trend.

The work was displayed in the experimental Wyspa Gallery in Gdañsk at the end of 2001 and the beginning of 2002 and was seen by the political radicals in a television programme. The matter was created by the media and used by the politicians to propagate their own ideology. Those who were supposedly insulted never saw the installation in its entirety and in reality. The decision of the court is based on a surprising interpretation of Article 196 of the Penal Code, which concerns the protection of religious feelings. According to the interpretation, the cross created by the artist is an object of religious adoration. The verdict discriminates in favour of the dominant religion to the detriment of other world-views and attitudes and sanctions the taking into possession of a symbol of a universal character by one religion. It is worth paying attention to the fact that part of the punishment imposed on the artist includes community work, which clearly is intended to inform society that artistic creativity is not work, which is a grave threat to the social situation of artists in Poland.

The Wyspa Gallery, the oldest and most distinguished non-profit organisation in Gdañsk, was forced to close after 20 years of activity as a result of this exhibition. The conviction of Nieznalska aroused ferment among intellectuals, artists, journalists and other citizens of Poland. To date some 700 people from the country and abroad have signed a letter in the artist’s defence. Events in the last few years in Poland, including the dismissals of directors of artistic institutions with uncompromising programmes, together with attacks on controversial artists, indicate that Nieznalska’s case is not an isolated one. Further cases are being brought against artists on the inspiration of the League of Polish Families.

Currently the Wyspa Progress Foundation, with which Nieznalska is connected, is conducting a campaign to overturn the conviction of the artist in an appeal process based on the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression and to freedom of creative expression. We appeal to you for support in the battle for creative freedom in Poland.

Those of you who are interested in signing the open letter are asked to send your names and addresses and occupations to: wyspa_mode@wp.pl .

Open letter concerning the conviction of Dorota Nieznalska

The conviction of Dorota Nieznalska on the charge of insulting religious feelings is shocking proof that the fundamental statute of the Polish Republic is not respected in a country which until recently seemed to be a symbol of freedom. The principle of the freedom of expressing one’s views has been totally violated and has made the artist a victim of an ideologised vision of a religious state, which the League of Polish Families is attempting to impose on Polish society. Civic freedoms are not established in order that they may serve one ideology. We all have the right to live and function in this country and to express our own views freely. Every culture needs its own sphere of freedom, incorrectness, difference. Art is one such sphere. Art is not created in order to decorate walls; it is above all a testimony to its own time and it expresses that which public discourse cannot perhaps express in any other form. Art is a living and volatile manifestation and its boundaries cannot be regulated by the clauses of the penal code. This has clearly been testified to by the judgements of the Human Rights Tribunal in Strasbourg.

Polish society is not homogeneous. We can talk about majorities and minorities belonging to the same society. Dorota Nieznalska, in dealing with one of the problems which is present in this society, is expressing her right to be different.

We demand the respecting of the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Polish Republic.
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doattime, 03/08/2003 6.50.00
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