The media in Sweden are only interested in trouble if they can pin it on whites. If it is people of colour, they lose all interest. So that is what’s behind Park’s artwork. It’s an ironic, sarcastic comment on the social conditions in Sweden.
Selling Dan Park's banned artwork is hardly Lars Hedegaard's firt forray into the free speech debate. Photo: Bax Lindhardt/Scanpix
As The Local reported on Wednesday, the artwork that landed Swedish artist Dan Park in jail on racism charges is being both sold and publicly displayed in Denmark.
The display of Park’s works is being organised by the Danish Free Press Society (Trykkefrihedsselskabet) and on Friday it was announced that Danish artist Kristian von Hornsleth will display the art at the Copenhagen gallery Hornsleth & Friends from October 23-31.
The sale of ‘Sweden’s most dangerous art’, meanwhile, is being done online by the Free Speech Library, a for-profit offshoot of the Free Press Society that is headed up by Lars Hedegaard, a noted Danish free speech activist and vocal Islam critic who is no stranger to controversy himself.
Hedegaard was at the centre of a high-profile legal battle over anti-Islamic comments including the insinuation that Muslim men rape their female family members. Although he was initially convicted by a lower court, he was unanimously cleared of racism charges by the Supreme Court in 2012.
The following year, he survived an assassination attempt that is widely believed to be related to his outspoken criticism of Islam. A 26-year-old Danish citizen of Lebanese descent was arrested in Turkey in April on suspicion of being the gunman and is awaiting extradition to Denmark.
The Local spoke to Hedegaard about the decision to sell Park’s art, the difference between Danes and Swedes, and the consequences of defending free speech.
Lars Hedegaard, why are you selling Dan Park’s artwork?
This is a question of free speech, not a question of whether we think Dan Park’s art is good or has a high quality. I also think that Dan Park got a raw deal. He’s not at all a racist, and there is a reason that he’s drawing these pictures. These are intended as part of the public debate about issues that are verboten to speak about in Sweden. So if you look at it form the angle, it all makes sense.
Is Dan Park’s work racist?
Absolutely not. It’s a sort of snide comment on the activities of the so-called anti-racists.
Look at the picture of the three blacks hanging under the bridge. That was because the guy in the middle, Yusupha Sallah, was brutally attacked on a bridge in Malmö and almost thrown from the bridge. Immediately, Jallow Momodou, the guy on the left, who is the president of the National Afro-Swedish Association, went out and accused white Swedes of racism. But it turned out the guys who did it were not Swedes, but Kurds, and then suddenly he was very quiet about the attack.
One of Park's controversial works being sold online by Hedegaard
Shouldn’t the Swedes be able to go about their business and have their own ways and laws without someone from Denmark interfering?
I don’t want to live next to a country where people are put in jail for drawing pictures.
I would care if this happened in any Western or European country, but I particularly care in this case because we have a bridge between our countries and I don’t want ridiculous laws to hold sway in my country. We have an international obligation to defend artists, journalists and authors. This is not only about Dan Park, the Swedes are also censoring Pippi Longstocking – where does it end? Do you have to go through all Western culture and eradicate anything that might be considered offensive?
Why do you think Danes and Swedes see things so differently when it comes to free speech?
[Laughter] That’s a question I get all the time. I can’t explain it. It’s just a fact of life that Danes are not as obedient as the Swedes tend to be. I’m not talking about all Swedes of course, as some of my friends and collaborators are Swedish. But most Swedes tend to shut up and obey and do as they are told. I think it’s a tradition in Sweden to do what the authorities tell you to do, whereas there is a tradition in Denmark for being disobedient. In that sense, we are more like the Americans: individualists, free-thinking, iconoclastic.
You’ve faced racism charges and an attempt on your life. Dan Park is sitting in a Swedish jail cell. Is the fight for free speech worth these kinds of consequences?
It’s always worth fighting for liberty. Once you stop doing that, freedom is gone. So no matter the consequences, you have to carry on. Of course, I don’t welcome or appreciate these consequences, but that’s what you have to expect theses days. When I was a kid, you could say whatever you wanted without the threat of being arrested or killed. You cannot anymore, which is a sad statement on our times, but that’s the way it is.
NOTE: Hedegaard told The Local that the Free Speech Library has sold some of Park’s pieces, but declined to give any further details. He also did not wish to comment on whether this was a coordinated effort with Park or if the Swedish artist would receive any of the sale proceeds.