Case 08

Censorship at ARCO fair

ARCO drops an exhibition about the Catalan political prisoners in Madrid

ARCO’s organization decided to remove Santiago Sierra’s piece to “avoid controversy”.


The ARCO art fair in Madrid started this edition in a quite controversial way: by dropping an exhibit by artist and activist Santiago Sierra. His work has always been considered political and this piece was called “PRESOS POLÍTICOS Y LA ESPAÑA CONTEMPORÁNEA” (Political Prisoners and Contemporary Spain). The artwork consists of about twenty black-and-white pixelled pictures of Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sánchez, amongst others. With this work, the artist wanted to underline that Spain has political prisoners and to bring the “independence process” into art.

It was IFEMA’s president (“IFEMA” is the “International Madrid Fair”) who asked for this piece to be removed, and both the art gallery and ARCO agreed. In its 37 editions, ARCO had never censored any artist.

IFEMA issued a statement saying that Sierra’s work, which was hitting the headlines, “hampers the visibility of the other art on show”. Sierra described the withdrawal of his piece as “censorship”; All this seriously harms both, the Fair and Spain’s image. And it’s also a lack of respect for the gallery”. He also said that: “If Spain is not a dictatorship, it’s quite similar to one”.

Due to this instance of censorship, many politicians and artists have expressed their opinion supporting freedom of expression and against censorship.

The mayoress of Madrid refused to attend the opening ceremony in protest


The Catalan independence process, since 1 October, has been setting Spain’s political agenda, and the expression “political prisoners” is not allowed in many of the media and any view of the facts that does not coincide with the one imposed by the Spanish government is queried. Santiago Sierra’s piece was withdrawn to avoid it being exhibited and to hide what is happening in Spain: more than twenty people (artists, politicians and activists), mostly left-wing, have been summonsed by judges merely because they have shared their opinion or defended their ideas.

The outcome

Since this case of censorship took place, a Catalan businessman purchased the work to exhibit it in different places so that it would be seen by the maximum number of people. The piece has been exhibited in Madrid, València, Lleida and Barcelona thus far

Violated laws

In this case there has been an infringement of an artist’s right of freedom of expression, a fundamental right enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also recognised by the most of democratic systems. In the Spanish Constitution it appears in Article 20:

“Freedom of expression is the right to express one’s opinions without censorship, restraint, or legal penalty.”


(To be posted when available)

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