Olivia Colman, Nicola Coughlan join over 1,300 artists in decrying censorship of pro-Palestine voices in the arts

Olivia Colman, Nicola Coughlan join over 1,300 artists in decrying censorship of pro-Palestine voices in the arts
Prominent names including Oscar winner Olivia Colman have signed a letter of solidarity with Palestinians amid Israel's onslaught.
3 min read
01 December, 2023
Olivia Colman, who showed support for Palestine, was recently seen attending the world premiere of her newest film "Wonka" [Getty]

More than 1,300 artists, including Oscar-winning actor Olivia Colman, Bridgerton star Nicola Coughlan and film director Ken Loach have launched a letter accusing the arts and culture industry of complicity in the silencing of Palestinian voices amid Israel’s war on Gaza

The letter addressed several Western institutions' response to the war on Gaza by raising concerns about pro-Palestine censorship, which has seen cancellations of artists who showed solidarity with Palestine. 

Such included Lisson Gallery’s ‘postponement’ of Ai Weiwei’s London exhibition over his tweet and the firing of Scream actress Melissa Barrera by production company Spyglass. 

"Far from supporting our calls for an end to the violence, many cultural institutions in Western countries are systematically repressing, silencing and stigmatising Palestinian voices and perspectives," the statement said. 

"This includes targeting and threatening the livelihoods of artists and arts workers who express solidarity with Palestinians, as well as cancelling performances, screenings, talks, exhibitions and book launches."

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The letter emphasised that the arts sector must publicly call for a permanent ceasefire, amplify critical Palestinian voices and "refuse collaborations with institutions or bodies that are complicit in severe human rights violations".

Additionally, it also urged the industry to respect free speech and protect artists from all forms of violations, such as threats and intimidation in the workplace. 

"Freedom of expression, as enshrined in the Human Rights Act and the European Convention of Human Rights is the backbone of our creative lives, and fundamental to democracy," the letter said.

"We remind cultural organisations and their funders of their obligation to uphold the right to freedom of expression and to uphold their commitment to anti-discrimination."

Other famed signatories include BAFTA winners Aimee Lou Wood and Siobhán McSweeney, as well as Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad and Bottoms director Emma Seligman. 

The letter’s release followed the boycott of US-based magazine publication Artforum, due to the firing of editor David Velasco who published a letter that demanded a ceasefire in Gaza and was co-signed by 8,000 other artists. 

 The UN’s office headquarters in Geneva previously issued a statement, where UN experts raised concerns over the blacklisting of various individuals, including artists, academics and activists, who have faced harsh consequences due to their visibility, following criticism of the Israeli government. 

"Calls for an end to the violence and attacks in Gaza, or for a humanitarian ceasefire, or criticism of Israeli government’s policies and actions, have in too many contexts been misleadingly equated with support for terrorism or antisemitism," the UN experts said. 

"This stifles free expression, including artistic expression, and creates an atmosphere of fear to participate in public life."

Gabriel Frankel, UK legal officer at the European Legal Support Centre which monitors incidents of repression against advocates for Palestinian rights, said that his organisation is committed to amplifying the struggles faced by public figures who have spoken against human rights violations in Gaza. 

"We have … seen workers in the sector push back and remain firm in their commitment to justice, and we encourage those who have any concerns to contact the ELSC for advice," Frankel said. 

The letter and complete list of signatories can be found here