It almost sounds too ironic that in an exhibition entitled “Passion for Freedom” the freedom of expression would be the first thing to go out of the window. However, this was exactly what happened recently in an exhibition at London’s Mall Galleries, as the local police demanded the removal of an art project by the young artist Mimsy unless the exhibition organizers would agree to pay 50,000euro for the security of the show. What could Mimsy (the protective alias this young female artist has chosen to avoid any risks) have possibly done to scare off the London authorities? Very simple, she decided to tackle in her work the notorious villain of our time – Isis.
Her new, much talked about controversial project – Isis Threaten Sylvania – features a set of ten tableaux in which the artist juxtaposes the idyllic and carefree world of Sylvania figurines with the menacing shadow of Isis troops knocking at the gates of their pastoral existence.
Although it might appear at first as a sort of childish pun; using a highly-popular, upscale toy brand of the affluent West in order to ridicule what is truly a very serious matter to so many people whose lives have been affected by the Islamic State’s ravenous campaign, Mimsy’s miniature depiction nonetheless succeeds in being both instructive and effective. The composition of the tableaux instantly invokes recent events (the classroom scene immediately brings to mind the recent memory of the Taliban attacks on a school in Pakistan, or the Boko Haram kidnapping of a Nigerian school-bus). In this sense, Mimsy’s project resembles Maayan Strauss’ work from 2006 in which the artist used Playmobil figurines as a model for the evacuation of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories.
What is even more striking in Mimsy’s tableaux is that despite the almost static and snapshot-like character of the scenes, the meticulous arrangement of the figurines, which feature many accessories and outfits that the artist has especially made for the piece, manages to convey a sense of movement and expectation.
It truly has the feeling as though the frame had been taken from some horror film, right at the second before the murderer is about to strike his oblivious victims before the spectator’s eyes.
And after all, perhaps the real irony of this entire story is not the restriction of Mimsy’s freedom of artistic expression but rather the fact that by capitulating to a potential (yet still imagined!) threat of Isis sympathizers, the authorities are actually revealing the accuracy of Mimsy’s artistic portrayal. It is even tempting to suggest that the only scene that is missing from her set is one in which we could see the various inhabitants of Sylvania attending an art exhibition; while the black clad Isis figurines are lurking in the background.