WARSAW (Reuters) - Around 1,000 people, many eating bananas to make their point, protested in front of Warsaw’s National Museum on Monday over a decision last week to remove artworks deemed “indecent” by the museum’s director.
One work, a 1973 video “Consumer Art” by Polish artist Natalia LL and stills from the video, show a woman eating a banana in sometimes lascivious poses. Only the video was removed on Friday according to the museum’s officials.
The museum also removed an installation by artist Katarzyna Kozyra depicting a woman walking two men dressed up as animals on a leash.
The museum’s director, Jerzy Miziolek, asked to have the artworks removed last Friday, saying that “certain topics related to gender shouldn’t be explicitly shown”, according to Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.
The museum has since promised to reinstate the artwork, but the protests went ahead anyway.
“We are against censorship in our country, especially in arts,” said 25-year-old lawyer Marta Syrewicz, walking towards the protest with a banana in hand.
The controversy follows criticism of the Culture Ministry and of the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government for interfering in decisions on who heads cultural institutions like theaters and museums since taking power in 2015.
For example, in 2017, the Culture Ministry refused to pay 300,000 zlotys that it had previously promised to a theater festival in the city of Poznan as it was critical of the festival’s curator, Croatian artist Oliver Frljic.
The Culture Ministry said in a statement published on its website that it plays no role in deciding cultural institutions’ exhibition or repertoire policies, but it does follow up with the directors of these institutions regarding citizens’ complaints.
The ministry attached a copy of a letter from a concerned parent who said their child had been “traumatised” by the exhibition at the National Museum, which featured images of women undressing and children stabbed with knives.
A number of Polish actors and politicians posted images of themselves eating bananas on social media, using hashtags like #jesuisbanan and #bananagate to protest what they called censorship by the museum and Culture Ministry.
“The changes to the exhibition are in fact part of our commitment and new more dynamic vision for the functioning of the institution and not the depreciation of the museum’s collection or its censorship,” Miziolek said in a statement published on the museum’s website on Monday.
The PiS has sought to support more conservative, traditional values, embracing Catholicism and rejecting the promotion of LGBT rights ahead of parliamentary elections this year.
Reporting by Joanna Plucinska, Anna Koper, Alan Charlish, and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Frances Kerry