An art exhibit whose central theme is freedom of expression is facing a censorship attempt by the House of Ecuadorian Culture out of concern that it might become a “forum for opinion and political criticism.”
Vilma Vargas has built a career out of producing political cartoons. For over 20 years, the Ecuadorian artist has tackled subjects ranging from the violence against women to civil right abuses by the government. Not intimidated by censorship or the alarming state of free speech in her home country, Vargas sees her art as an opportunity to shed light on many of the social injustices occurring in Ecuador. In an interview with Chekhovs Kalashnikov, Vargas noted that “the press is passing through one of its gravest ever moments because of government harassment regarding freedom of expression and that has affected various media outlets, including the newspaper where I work.”
Her most recent exhibition appears to be another example of a space censored by the government. Entitled HUARMIcaturas, por la libertad, Vargas’ current exhibit focuses on freedom of expression and freedom of opinion, and showcases 50 works that inspire conversation and contemplation. As Cartoonist Rights Network International reports, though, some last minute curating decisions made by The House of Ecuadorian Culture (CCE) have seen the removal of certain potentially controversial aspects of the exhibit.
Despite the their embrace of the exhibit’s theme, the CCE refused to have a catalogue produced that included contextual information for each piece on display, the CCE stating that they were saving the exhibit from becoming a “a forum for opinion and political criticism, thereby undermining the institutional mission and vision of the CCE to promote, support and sponsor the works and artists without any bias involving . . . political positions of any kind.”
Along with the catalog, the CCE also made the last minute decision to remove the animation portion of the exhibition once again over concerns of political and social implications of the pieces.
Although the CCE made an official statement that “freedom of expression has not been censored in any way,” Vargas does not have the same sentiments. The target of past intimidation tactics by the Ecuadorian government, Vargas has taken to her blog to speak out and share the censored information. Along with providing context for each piece, Vargas has also included the removed animated videos.
Vargas isn’t the only Ecuadorian cartoonist who has been the target of governmental censorship. Javier Bonilla (aka Bonil) has recently gone up against a couple governmental agencies for some of his works–works that have led the cartoonist to face “baseless” legal harassment. Despite the government’s actions, though, Bonil continues to draw. “I can notice reactions through social networks such as Facebook or Twitter,” Bonil said in a recent interview with Sampsonia Way. “There are a lot of people who identify themselves with my drawings, encourage me to carry on, show solidarity and express similar opinions to mine. This is a cartoon: a space of complicity and social cohesion.”
For Vargas, her (censored) exhibit will still be on display through the month of May, but, like Bonil, she reminds us that it is imperative that cartoonists and journalists continue to fight for their right to free expression. “To report and make art or say what one thinks always brings risks… While my lucidity has permitted me to continue drawing it may sound counter-intuitive, but the worse the country gets, the more work there is for us caricaturists.”
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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!