I Know Why The Rebel Sings (exhibition)
Artist: Newsha Tavakolian
Date of Action: August 2021
Region: Middle East
Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion
Confronting Bodies: Media Development Authority (MDA) of Singapore
Description of Artwork: 'I Know Why The Rebel Sings' presented highlights from a range of works by Iranian documentary photographer Newsha Tavakolian, curated by Vali Mahlouji. It was first presented at Prince Claud Fund in Amsterdam. It included photographs from her series, 'Look,' 'Listen,' and "The Blank Pages Of An Iranian Photo Album," as well as "On the War Trail" with previously unexhibited images of humanitarian tragedies around the world with a focus on the portrait. The exhibition was part of Singapore International Festival of the Arts (SIFA)'s pre-festival, O.P.E.N. public engagement initiative ("Open, Participate, Engage, Negotiate"). SIFA is the premier national performing arts festival in the country. Tavakolian, best known for her iconic photographs of struggle and conflict, is a member of Magnum Photos and has shot for publications such as National Geographic.
The Incident: When the Media Development Authority (MDA) of Singapore initially refused to grant permits for 33 of the photos, the Festival Director Ong Keng Sen and the show's curator, Vali Mahlouji, did not agree on a smaller selection to be exhibited, but retained the integrity of the exhibition by deploying a strategy to cover the censored works beneath black cards. But before opening night, the MDA censored 15 of a larger group of photographs hung against a backdrop of a map of the conflict region, replacing each with a black paper rectangle. The photos belong to the series "On the War Trail," depicting photos of Kurdish female soldiers fighting ISIS that are part of the YPJ, an all-woman offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party which the Turkish government (along with United States, Japan and Australia, and several other countries) considers a terrorist organisation. The photographs were commissioned by Time Magazine. Festival director Sen issued a statement condemning MDA's move, pointing out that the photographs were already published in Time Magazine and were widely accessible both online and off. "And so we are living with a new terror where we don't know, it is out of our control," he said at the exhibition's launch. [from "Ong Keng Sen on censorship at Newsha Tavakolian's I Know Why the Rebel Sings," June 22, 2016]
Results of Incident: The show remained up for the duration with the blacked-out photographs.