by Apollo and E. A.
We attended a “Shut Down LD50” picket called by Hackney Stand Up to Racism in Dalston, an inner city suburb of London, on Feb, 25. The campaign was aimed at calling attention to the backstreet LD50 Gallery that had held a series of “alt-right” exhibitions and talks on its premises over a week last year. Around 250-300 people–both locals and political groups–turned up to protest the art gallery at short notice on a chilly Saturday morning. The event was organised through social media.
Hackney Stand Up to Racism was asking the local council to shut down the gallery.
The gallery has usually put on uncontroversial exhibitions–the exception being one by former Turner Prize nominees Jake and Dino Chapman–but this was the first exhibit dedicated to so-called “alt-right” themes of economics, genetics and immigration. The talks and discussions only recently caused considerable local alarm, as they seem to have been kept very low key until late last year. Some participants even claim they were duped into attending under false pretences. This brought into question owner Lucia Diego`s claims on local radio that the gallery wanted to start an artistic debate.To date, the discussion has been much about the supposed impact on the local multi-ethnic community. However, the campaign seems to have been conducted without much input from that community, and instead by self-appointed community leaders.
We do not agree with the government shutting down the gallery, and we are well aware that this is not an abstract “liberal” debate. Rather, this is one that has a direct impact on the creativity and self-expression of artists, the right to protest, free speech, and demanding that local government shut down cultural spaces, as well as the normalisation of the “alt-right.” As people of colour, we reject the notion that we are so politically fragile that we have to be shielded from reactionary ideas by the government.
It should be more than possible to argue for the gallery to continue its artistic work while at the same protesting the content, but some do not agree with this more nuanced balance between free expression and right to protest.
The local paper quoted people on opposite sides of the debate:
“We don’t care about annoying liberal idiots or hard-right people that want to have free debate or whatever. We care about shutting down organizing spaces…there’s enough evidence to say that they’re organizing in this space. Any kind of fascist organizing causes a physical threat down the line.”
“[LD50 hosted] people speaking who hold very right-wing ideas. I think that’s a good thing, because I think that we have to be able to have discussion with people who hold these ideas. There are millions of people in the world who have these ideas now. Trying to repress them isn’t going to make them go away.”
LD50 is currently closed and its website is off-line, but it may reopen in the near future.