[Galerie Nord (Berlin)]
Berlin gallery shuts down exhibit after threats by Muslim protestors
February 29, 2008
A Berlin gallery has temporarily closed an art show of satirical pieces by Danish artists after the gallery was stormed by Muslim protesters, demanding that it take down a poster depicting the Kaaba shrine in Mecca.
The Galerie Nord in central Berlin said late Thursday it would shut the exhibit by Surrend, an artist duo who like to poke fun at ideologies and powerful people, barely a week after it opened.
Muslim demonstrators flooded the gallery on Tuesday, outraged over a poster showing the sacred shrine and labelled "Stupid Stone." The Kaaba is the shrine holding a black stone, considered sacrosanct to Muslims. They pray in the direction of the Kaaba every day.
"They were very aggressive and shouted at an employee," the gallery's artistic director Ralf Hartmann said. He also said they threatened to use violence.
The gallery is now working with German authorities to improve security. Hartmann says he hopes to re-open the show.
"It would be unacceptable if individual social groups were in a position to exercise censorship over art and the freedom of expression," said the gallery in a statement.
The Surrend artists — Jan Egesborg and Pia Bertelsen — are known for using advertisements, posters, websites and stickers to express irony and mockery. Hartmann says the exhibition is not anti-Muslim, but anti-radical.
The poster that inflamed the ire of the protesters is one of four works that attack neo-Nazi propaganda and anti-Semitic theories that Jews control the world.
"That theory also lives in the Arab world," he said.
The news puts Denmark again at the centre of the controversy surrounding artistic freedom in connection with Muslims.
Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2006 triggered major protests in Muslim countries after they were published in a local newspaper.
On Feb. 13, 2008, newspapers in Denmark reprinted one of the caricatures to show their commitment to freedom of speech after police said had they uncovered a plot to kill the artist who drew it and arrested three suspects.