A campaign group calling for the closure of an art gallery in east London will hold protests this weekend. This follows a series of events and exhibits at the LD50 gallery in Dalston, which Andrew Osborne, an organiser for the Shutdown LD50 group, says constituted ‘hate speech’, and ‘advocate[d] violence in the pursuit of authoritarianism and racial supremacy’.
The series of LD50 events that so excited Shutdown LD50 included a conference on ‘neoreaction’, where one of the guest speakers argued against equality and voting and championed a nation made up of ‘one ethnic group’. It also held an exhibition about the alt-right.
Of course, demonstrations are an important part of a lively democratic culture. But to call for the permanent censorship, or ‘shutdown’, of creatives is not a democratic or effective way to defeat ideas you disagree with. These campaigners aren’t simply protesting against ideas they dislike, they are trying to stop those ideas from being heard.
LD50 says it wanted to open up debate, and its website has reposted much of the more strident criticism it has received. In a statement, it says that ‘the role of art is to provide a vehicle for the free exploration of ideas’, including those that are ‘challenging, controversial or indeed distasteful for some individuals to contemplate’. It goes on to say that the need to explore difficult ideas is particularly important at a time when those in the art world seem less willing to do.
Whether or not those at LD50 support the alt-right, or are just trying to provoke a reaction, is beside the point. Galleries must be free to display whatever work they choose, just as we must be free to judge and debate it. However, those involved in Shutdown LD50 clearly don’t want to engage in debate. Their aim is to extinguish it. In the name of freedom and equality, they justify shutting down speech they dislike.