WikiLeaks Is Showing Classified Government Cables in an Art Exhibition Meant to Raise Awareness About Threats to Free Speech
Ai Weiwei, Dread Scott, and Vivienne Westwood are among the big names also featured in a new show detailing the impact of Julian Assange's case on free speech.
Visitors could be prosecuted for viewing some of the materials included in an art exhibition being staged by Wikileaks in London. The show will address tactics of government oppression and the state of freedom of speech in contemporary societies, and includes hard copies of the classified government cables leaked by Julian Assange in 2010.
Ai Weiwei, Dread Scott, Santiago Sierra, Andrei Molodkin, and the late Vivienne Westwood are among the artists ensemble also featured in the upcoming exhibition. Titled “States of Violence,” the show that will run from March 24 to April 8 is a first-time collaboration between the international nonprofit, the London-based art organization a/political, and the Wau Holland Foundation, named for the German activist cofounder of the Chaos Computer Club. The exhibition coincides with the fourth anniversary of the detention of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the U.K. capital. Assange remains in the high security Belmarsh Prison while the U.S. attempts to extradite him under the Espionage Act, which could lead to 175 years of imprisonment.
The show will also feature Secret+Noforn (2022) by the Institute for Dissent & Datalove. The body of work is said to be the largest physical publication of classified U.S. diplomatic cables from the 2010 WikiLeaks Cablegate—the publication of which led to Assange’s prosecution. Consisting of 66 books, the presentation will be the first time the top secret government cables have been shown in hard copy in the U.K.
Although the cables have been widely available online for over a decade, possession and access of the materials may still come with legal consequences as the American Espionage Act enacted in 1917 is still valid today. This means that visitors at the exhibition opening one of the 66 books are advised that they risk being prosecuted for the same crime for which Assange is facing extradition.
The goal of the exhibition, explained WikiLeaks Ambassador Joseph Farrell, is not just about campaigning for Assange, but raising awareness about wider threats to freedom of speech. “If they are successful in getting an Australian out of Europe, the precedent will be set for a British journalist that writes something that the Chinese government doesn’t like—there’s nothing to stop the Chinese government from requesting the extradition and putting them in prison. It is a much greater issue,” Farrell told Artnet News.
The organizers hope the artworks on show demonstrate various forms of violence and institutional oppression that have been employed by the states to target dissidents.
The curatorial team is still finalizing the exhibition plan and declined to say exactly how many works and how many artists will be featured in a/political’s Kennington venue. “We hope that culture is the last free space to be speaking about this. But even culture, even artists are struggling for their freedom of speech. A number of artists we work with have been imprisoned or on the wrong side of the law or their work being censored,” said a spokesperson of a/political.
Among the works on show will be Ai Weiwei’s photography series Study of Perspective, which sees the Chinese artist-activist raising his middle finger to pieces of architecture representing the institutional authority. One of the works the series, Tiananmen, which has been censored in Hong Kong, will also be on display. Works by the legendary designer Westwood, supported by the Vivienne Foundation, will “have a strong presence” at show, according to a/political, as well as a public program hosted by hip-hop artist and activist Lowkey. A closing music event will be held in collaboration with Shangri-La Glastonbury on April 8.
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