London: art about De Menezes murder censored

Censorship causes blindness, cartoonBritain: “Fear on the Streets” art installation removed from Selfridges’s window

By Paul Bond

5 September 2005

Selfridges department store in London last month removed from its window an art installation dealing with the climate of fear being fostered in the aftermath of the July 7 subway bombings and the police murder of Jean Charles de Menezes.

Eleven young professional artists from the Drawing Year programme at The Prince’s Drawing School were each given a window at Selfridges for five days.

Controversy arose over Dora Wade’s installation, “ Fear on the Streets”, which was first mounted on August 21.

A developing installation, the work took as its starting point “what it was like to be in the streets after the bombings.”

The work, which predominantly used stark black-and-white elements, sought to address a number of social issues in the aftermath of the bombings, particularly the officially encouraged atmosphere of alarm.

A wooden cage represented the Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs), while meter-wide linocut £20 notes bore the serial number ASBO2005; a cordon of mannequins in police uniforms stood in front of a woman pushing a pram; closed-circuit television cameras looked on the scene, and the whole piece was illustrated with stanzas from W. S. Gilbert’s poem My Dream:

De Menezes mural in London

The other night, from cares exempt,
I slept—and what d’you think I dreamt?
I dreamt that somehow I had come
To dwell in Topsy-Turveydom!

Where vice is virtue—virtue, vice:
Where nice is nasty—nasty, nice
Where right is wrong and wrong is right—
Where white is black and black is white.

The intention, the artist has written on her website, was to highlight “the gulf that exists between bland commercial shop window displays and external fearful reality.”

As an evolving installation, other elements were added over the course of the show.

Most controversially, a Brazilian man was placed in a prone position at the centre of the installation, in an invocation of the police killing of Jean Charles de Menezes.

De Menezes, an innocent man, was shot dead by armed police under a governmental shoot-to-kill policy on July 22.

For half an hour on August 22, the body of the man in the installation was draped in a Brazilian flag.

The artist herself, dressed as a policewoman, stood behind him reading a paper with the headline “New Order: Shoot To Kill.”

It was this explicit statement that first attracted the attention of Selfridges.

The company requested that the flag and the newspaper be removed from the display.

This was done, but when Wade arrived on the following morning, she was told that the installation had been closed and she was told to remove it.

Read more here.

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