Isis Threaten Sylvania

London. Exhibition. Celebrating freedom of expression.

Visitors to a London exhibition celebrating freedom of expression this week found plenty of familiar taboo-busting work, from Jamie McCartney’s The Great Wall of Vagina, an eight-foot long cast featuring the genitals of 400 women, to Kubra Khademi’s video of an eight-minute walk she made through Kabul in Afganistan, dressed in lushly contoured body armour.

You know what the next word is.



But they will have looked in vain for one work detailed in the catalogue by an artist known only as Mimsy.

Last name Borogoves? Sorry, sorry.

Isis Threaten Sylvania is a series of seven satirical light box tableaux featuring the children’s toys Sylvanian Families. It was removed from the Passion for Freedom exhibition at the Mall galleries after police raised concerns about the “potentially inflammatory content” of the work, informing the organisers that, if they went ahead with their plans to display it, they would have to pay £36,000 for security for the six-day show.

That’s the world we live in now. Hooray for free expression – but – if your free expression is at all capable of chafing the mood of Islamist murderers, either shut up or pay for an army to defend it. But hey hooray for free expression all the same yeah?

The decision to remove the work from Passion for Freedom came after the Mall Galleries consulted the police, who raised “a number of serious concerns regarding the potentially inflammatory content of Mimsy’s work”. The gallery cited a clause in the exhibition contract which allowed it the right to request removal of an artwork.

The organisers of the not-for-profit organisation said: “To our shock the highlighted work was humorously mocking the despised terrorist organisation that causes suffering to many, not only in the Middle East, but also here, in Europe and the America,” adding that, in view of the decision, the word “uncensored” had been removed from all their publicity for the show.

Mimsy isn’t best pleased. Mimsy has good reason.

Mimsy said she had adopted a pseudonym because, as the daughter of a Syrian father whose Jewish family had to go into exile in Lebanon when he was a child, she was acutely aware of the potential risk of speaking out.

“I love my freedom,” she said. “I’m aware of the very real threat to that freedom from Islamic fascism and I’m not going to pander to them or justify it like many people on the left are doing.”

She made these rather sweet, silly, whimsical-looking tableaux of animal characters doing pleasant things while the black-clad Islamists lurk nearby, but her tableaux turned out to be not so whimsical at all.

She added that the idea of using Sylvanian Families “just popped into my head” as a way of demonstrating that fanaticism was not a question of race. Though the jihadis in the work are called “MICE-IS”, some are clearly cats or koalas and others have rabbits’ ears popping out of their masks. “I’m sick and tired of people calling criticism of fanatical Islam racist, because racism is about your skin colour and radical Islam is nothing to do with that. There are millions of Muslims who are shocked by it too,” said Mimsy.

She added that she had made the tableaux between December 2014 and May 2015 and had looked on in horror as, one by one, her imagined scenarios came true. In one scene, jihadis lurk outside a schoolroom, while a class of girls sit at their desks; in another, gunmen bristle on the horizon as holidaymakers sunbathe on a beach. “It was creepy, because each time I imagined a scene it happened in reality. I made the beach scene before the Tunisian massacre and the schoolroom scene before Boko Haram abducted the schoolgirls in Nigeria,” she said.

No wonder the police shut it down.

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