Rt. Hon. Neil Kinnock, Leader of the Opposition, 1983-92 and UK Commissioner of the EU, 1995-2004, honoured the exhibition of Overcoming Dictatorships by giving a brilliant speech during the opening at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Birmingham on 9 Oct 2008.
Lord Kinnock and exhibition convener Dr. Dr. Jutta Vinzent during the reception
In the face of absolutely ruthless oppression, Lord Kinnock told his audience, “people have to resort to other means of trying to resist the dictatorship of the intellect, the occupation of the mind, the colonization of the conscience; and that is why arts are vital components, vital means and vital vehicles of freedom.”
Compared to the arts poetry or prose are rather risky endeavours. “Because you write it down what you think and it’s going to be retained. Words mean what words say. If the censor catches you in the trap or somebody betrays, then the results can be and have been devastating.” In his view the still many dictatorships of the world today painfully prove it.
Lord Kinnock pointed out that music has the protest most of the time through metaphor and through allegory. That may impede its accessibility. As soon as people start to sing freedom songs, the best thing that will happen to them is to be locked up, he warned. It is more likely that their fingers are going to be smashed in public, as it happened to Chilean guitarist Victor Hara before he was shot by the henchmen of Pinochet. It is in this way that we have to understand a genius composer like Dmitri Shostakovich who, while expressing his hopes and protests in remarkable symphonies, “changed his tune into a nice martial march that even a bloody idiot like Stalin could enjoy.”
The great thing about art is that throughout the centuries there have been innumerable artists who have used their creativity to attack absolutism and tyranny. “When challenged by the censor they can say: ‘Oh, you overinterpret that. I didn’t mean that at all! Oh no, that’s not an expressive blackness, that’s a shadow.’ And that means that quite a lot of them managed to stay out of jail. That’s why visual arts are such a glorious declaration of a liberty of conscience and thought. They don’t just speak for the artist, but they allow others to congregate around them.”
Lord Kinnock’s visit to Birmingham was reported by the Birmingham Post. For detailed information read also the project report. The exhibition will continue to be on display at The Rotunda Gallery of Aston Webb Building at the University of Birmingham (Mon – Fri, 10 am-5pm; closed weekends, admission free) until 9 November 2008.