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 art fair ARCO, in Madrid, started this edition in a quite controversial way: dropping the piece of Santiago Sierra, an artist and activist. His work has always been considered political and this piece was called “PRESOS POLÍTICOS Y LA ESPAÑA CONTEMPORÁNEA” (Political Prisoners and Contemporary Spain). The piece 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 prove that there are political prisoners in Spain and to bring the “independence process” into art.

It was IFEMA’s president (“IFEMA” is the “International Madrid’s fair”) who requested to drop this piece and both the Gallery and ARCO agreed. During its 37 editions, ARCO has never censored any artist. 

IFEMA issued a statement saying that Sierra’s work, which was hitting the headlines, “hurts the visibility of the other art on show”.  Sierra described the withdrawal of his piece as “censorship”; “All that seriously harms both, the fair and Spain’s image. And it’s also a lack of respect for the gallery”.  And he has also declared 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 Catalan independence process, since 1 October, is setting Spain’s political agenda, and the expression “political prisoners” can’t be used in the media and any view of the facts that does not coincide with the one imposed by the Spanish government is questioned. Santiago Sierra’s piece has been dropped to avoid its exhibition and to hide what is happening in Spain: more than twenty people (artists, politicians and activists), mostly left-winged have had to appear before the judge only because of sharing their opinion or defending their ideas

The outcome

Since this case of censorship took place, a Catalan businessman bought 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.”


Article El Periódico “ARCO withdraws a work on the political prisoners”:   (in Spanish)

     Article El País:  “The work of Santiago Sierra displaying the political prisoners is      

     withdrawn from ARCO fair”:  (in Spanish)

Artist’s statements (on Facebook): (in Spanish)

Article La Vanguardia “Artist’s statements on censorship”:  (in Spanish)

ERC reported to the European Parliament the censorship of “Presos Polítics”  (in Spanish)

Article on 20 Minutos: “Exhibition goes on tour after being censored at ARCO”: (in Spanish)

Article on El Periodico: “Exhibition goes on tour after being censored at ARCO”:  exposicion-presos-politicos-madrid-6652567 (in Spanish)


(To be posted when available)

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google plus
  • Whatsapp
  • E-mail