Very recently Ann Widdecombe has been in the news for suggesting that the act of being a homosexual could in the future be changed by the use of drugs. This isn’t actually new news; the claim was made by Widdecombe in her book which came out in 2012. It has resurfaced now  however because the current M.E.P for the South West is going on tour with her one woman show and will no doubt be discussing her views in her performance. One theatre in Devon, the Landmark Theatre in Ilfracombe however, has banned the show, the CEO stating:


“Following her disgusting gay therapy comments over the weekend, my programming team and I immediately decided to cancel the scheduled event, as we flatly refuse to offer a stage to someone who wishes to promote such vile opinion […] We don’t seek to prevent discussions where there might be differences in opinion – but in this case, there is no discussion to be had. Ann’s comments are divisive, disrespectful and foolishly ignorant.”

Quite why the theatre has expressed such opposition to the booking remains a mystery however as Widdecombe’s comments were made in 2012 so the theatre knew what they were booking. And not seeking to prevent discussion by banning discussion does seem to create something of an oxymoron. This does also of course bring to the surface again the subject of censorship / self-censorship in a press / social media dominated society.

In 2016, “Isis Threaten Sylvania”, a series of seven satirical light box tableaux, was removed from the Passion for Freedom exhibition at the Mall galleries in London after police raised concerns about the “potentially inflammatory content” of the work. You can see the artwork in the attached photo.


With the removal of “Isis Threaten Sylvania”, we can see a shift from the police advising closure following protest to the police actually contributing directly to the decision to remove work to avoid protest purely on subjective or aesthetic grounds. And in this case freedom of expression was actually given a price — set at £7,200 per day for the five days of the exhibition — the price set by the police for their services to guarantee public safety.

The police took the view that a perfectly legal piece of art, which had already been displayed without incident earlier in the year, was inflammatory. And in the balance of things as they stand, this opinion outweighs:

  • the right of the artist to express him or herself;
  • the organisation’s right to present provocative political art;
  • the audience’s right to view it;
  • and those that protest against it, the right to say how much they hate it, including when that means that they want the art removed.


This new chapter in the policing of controversial art sets alarm bells ringing for all in the arts, whatever the genre and represents a very dangerous precedent for foreclosing any work that the police don’t approve of. A police state?

“Concerns over terror are being inflated to such an extent that perfectly legitimate, non-criminal expression is being shut down across Britain: from university campuses, to theatre stages, to art galleries,” said Index on Censorship (a not-for-profit organisation) CEO Jodie Ginsberg. “In the case of the Sylvanian Families exhibit, we need to do more to ensure that police work with venues to promote freedom of expression, not stifle it.


Yours truly was privileged to attend Dartington College of Art where we were encouraged, nee forced, to skew, blur and push boundaries as far as possible to create new, innovative and controversial work. I would hate for all that training, along with the ethos and ethics of that wonderful institution, to be lost on account of someone somewhere deciding that they were the “decency” judge and able to decide what the public is or is not allowed to see. Worrying times indeed….

#hashartsuk #arts #censorship


Credits: Sylvanian Family images are courtesy of Mimsy, the Ann Widdecome image is courtesy of The Times


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