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Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw. Photo: Adrian Grycuk.
Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw. Photo: Adrian Grycuk.

Ujazdowski Castle Sparks Protests with “Anti–Cancel Culture” Exhibition

Throngs of demonstrators gathered outside the Ujazdowski Castle Center for Contemporary Art (CCA) in Warsaw on the evening of August 27 to protest the museum’s staging of “Political Art,” an exhibition CCA officials have characterized as celebrating free speech and challenging “cancel culture.” Critics of the show have branded it racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Islamist, and say that the show is being used as an excuse to give voice to and justify right-wing hate speech.

The exhibition is the second staged by Piotr Bernatowicz, a member of the far-right Law and Justice Party (PiS), who was appointed CCA director in late 2019 by the conservative government. Just months after assuming the role at the museum—for three decades considered Poland’s leading experimental art space—Bernatowicz was accused of using public funds to purchase a homophobic work of art for CCA without obtaining the permission of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage to do so.

Included in “Political Art” is a Swedish artist jailed for hate crimes, whose past work included the placing of swastikas and boxes bearing the label “Zyklon B”—the name of a gas used to exterminate Jews in concentration camps during the Holocaust—outside a Jewish community center in Malmo. His contribution here casts the right-wing Norwegian terrorist convicted for the 2011 mass murder of seventy-seven people, many of them children, as the Izod-clad heroic subject of a poster. Among the other twenty-nine participants is a Danish artist whose presented work shows a group of Ugandans holding up identity cards proving that they took him up on his offer to change their last names to his own in exchange for pigs and goats; a Swedish artist who in 2007 was placed under police protection for drawing the head of the Prophet Muhammed on a dog; and a Danish artist who contributed a performance in which he waved a Confederate flag, stripped nude, painted his white body black with assistance from another artist, and crawled about the floor shouting, “I can’t breathe.”