A SLAPP is intended to, censor and silence truth.
My partner Demetrios Vakras and I, both artists, are currently experiencing the expensive, contradictory and labyrinthine qualities of current Australian Defamation Law. My research to better understand and defend our legal position led me to the State Library of Victoria transcript of a 2005 Redmond Barry Lecture by publisher Morry Schwartz, "A Balancing Act: The Rightful Place of Defamation Law in Open Society". For this post heading I borrow from a portion of the lecture where Schwartz points out how we in Australia have no legislated right to freedom of speech and how within the context of an "open society..." this undermines the type of "...questioning that makes for muscular citizenship."
As artists predominately in the Surrealist genre my partner (in particular) and I represent a continuum within the Surrealist ambit of challenge to and criticism of societal structures and mechanisms that make up our socio-political and religious belief systems. It is from within what is supposed to be a free thinking secular democracy that we make our observations and point to contradictions through the vehicle of our visual art and writings. As Schwartz stated in 2005 we as citizens have a responsibility to question matters "of freedom and democracy". (See the full transcript here)
In 2009 Demetrios and I held a joint exhibition, Humanist Transhumanist, launched with accompanying self published Catalogue. Though much of the exhibition was of the "chance meeting of a sewing machine and umbrella on an operating table" (as was once remarked by Lautreamont), another part sought to reaffirm Surrealism's gritty tradition of challenge and revolution. In our exhibition and our accompanying publication are critiqued the four super religions of our time: Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism with strong human rights and socio-political commentary. We challenged the view and assertion that religions represent peace and are just and necessary systems of belief to control human conduct. Our arguments and imagery provide contrast to this mainstream view. We provide reasoned conclusions that religions are not peaceful, are unjust, are gender biased and utilise supporting quotes from the Bible and the Koran. The challenges we make were not undefended nor ignorant statement.
The night of our opening the Director of the Gallery unexpectedly made a scene, publicly declaring the show and us "racist", and ordered us out of our own exhibition. Upon another return to the gallery he again publicly repeated this charge of racism. Efforts to ascertain what he thought was "racist" revealed he thought only the criticism of Islam was "racist" and that he was "... against the Jews' state in Palestine". This conflict was not mentioned in any of our literature and the contradictory nature of his own statement was completely lost on him.
He denied ever misrepresenting our work and he further refused us entry to support our exhibition, going so far as to threaten that he would call the police to evict us simply for entering to photograph (document) the show. We had to abandon it entirely until take down some 3 weeks later.
When this occurred, July 2009, we accepted we may have to put a bad experience behind us, legal considerations were rationally beyond our means and energies. We instead posted each our own account of the experience to our respective art websites. This Gallery Director is suing for what we write, claiming that it is all injurious falsehood.
These website pages and links to them have been pulled by successive web Host providers who caved to legal threats by his lawyers to make them a joint defendant in the defamation case against us. In the latest attack on our websites our entire internet was pulled by Telstra, see the posts immediately prior this one. This "chilling" has dogged us for several months and will no doubt continue. We have now yet again made alternative hosting arrangements and have reinstated our pages and our websites. (see below)
The intention for writing these accounts and maintain them is to counter the claim of the "racism" attack on our character and our art work and art practice spanning some 30 years in the case of Demetrios who has been challenging religions since the early 1980's in his art and writings. To critique religion isn't illegal or menacing it is the nature of secular democracy that we critique it and the systems which do, or are seen to, under-pin or contradict it. Not a novel occurrence. However, now in Australia to critique Islam has been declared "racist". In Australia, it seems, Islam is immune from the same criticism levelled at the other major religions. The result is a mussel of any criticism of not only Islam but a flow on to other religions seeking the same immunity.
If it is the case that to critique religion in Australia is now to be a "racist" then what limited free speech we currently enjoy is under serious threat. To remain silent or be compelled to silence because your argument is not palatable for some is not an acceptable outcome for any society claiming to be free thinking and progressive.
Even with truth as our defence our fate at the hands of the Australian court system and its handling of defamation matters is frighteningly unknowable. It appears to us one we are alone and fairly impotent to alter or affect the outcome, so we will continue to tell our story and hope someone is listening.