Dispatch: Mazen Maarouf on ‘All that is banned is desired”

Posted on November 27, 2012 | No Comments

“All that is banned is desired”,

When art turns into a reflexive power, to get banned!


In the Norwegian capital sleeps on the shoulder of water Oslo opera house. It is a peaceful structure breathing below a changeable weather that displays simply the “unexpected”, the “percussive” and the “unrest”. The weather of Oslo resembles a state of instability. Political in the first sense and in a country somewhere, thousands of miles away from Oslo city. The “unexpected”, the “percussive” and the “unrest” are three vertices, each of particular dimension, that induce a temptation into the artist/writer/activist to move within and try to come up with a result. Yes, if these three vertices got joined together in a triangle, nothing can fit inside better than a chart of “politics of nowadays”. That may sort an elementary exercise in geometry. Is it easy to construct a triangle when the three points are located on the page? May be. A matter again to be thought about! Not that easy in fact. You have to cling in your neck a basket of requirements! Metaphorically speaking, to be able to connect the three vertices, you have to distinguish them first. And to be distinguished, an effort has to be done as they wouldn’t be located so clearly. And the medium that hosts them should be already existing, but either translucent, either turbid or dirty. However, you need also to track the “why” behind their location as well! Is that too complicated? The simplest way then, sounds to go backwards. If you know that the paper (the medium) we are talking about is nothing but the country, any country under political and military conflict, ethnic struggle, civil war, revolution, or any other kind of tension, then you can find your way to the “why” and you can understand how it means “translucent, turbid or dirty”. You will end up most probably pointing your finger to each of the vertices: the “unexpected”, the “percussive” and the “unstable”.


“All that is banned is desired” was the umbrella underneath gathered artists, filmmakers, writers, musicians, poets, singers and activists coming from different sides of the planet. They all experienced the ground level of countries under conflict, and got to interact with the wretched, unfortunate and helpless people whom the stains of politics had tattooed their lives and won‘t be removed from their skins before a very long time from now. However, both “locals“ and “foreigner“ didn‘t share only the indisposition of politics, but also their voices got banned in the same way somehow politically, artistically or simply socially. In Oslo opera house, was the first conference of such in the world. Artists have never been given the platform to speak out the experiences and struggles with some powerful institutions getting benefits of a miserable situation somewhere. The image of the situation had to be reflected this time through the artwork, outside any political broad discourse.  However, the title itself (“all that is banned is desired“,  proverb from Arabic) bundles two poles and puts them in constant vibration of one against the other: the desired and the banned.

The right of humans to live, think, speak out, express, interact, protest and object cannot be framed simply as “desired“ just because they had been “banned“ before. These people are fighting for their rights. By living the everyday moment, they are resisting the huge political or economical or even media projects. What can be referred to as a “desire“ (that can sound luxurious), is just the very individual prerogative right. These people move within the banned, trying to recover their existential figure. Their lives are however controlled by the desire of the supreme political or media forces or powerful economic or information institutions. The desire of these robust quarters is to ban the rights of the weaker, the poorer, the voiceless individual. The “plan“ of the desire gets to match with the “performance“ of the ban. And the two strands of the classical Arab proverb “All that is banned is desired“ twist with each other.


“Is it only another conference about freedom of speech? “. There is no way to sneak this question out of my mind whenever the issue of freedom of speech is brought into discussion. It is like a tiny metallic bell ringing through the huge squeaks of conflicts, wars, ethnic struggles, political agendas, invasions, revolutions and propagandas leaping from one country into another. I try to put down the driving forces of such resonance so it doesn‘t turn over to announce the knock out of me! “The speakers are artists, filmmakers, writers, musicians, poets, singers and activists“, I say to myself “and that‘s original. Isn‘t it?“ may be in the meantime. Artists, writers and poets have been involved in politics for hundreds of years. Through history, we read about works that were burned and banned, and thinkers, writers or artists being executed. We are then attached firmly to the past versions of human being. And we all trapped in a tissue whose stitches cross between human violence in one side, and power in the other. Any type or level of violence can serve, and any power also can do the best for only very few people on the planet.

The conference (25th-26th October 2012) was a combination of patches recalled from different parts of the world. But those patches didn‘t purpose to hide an image or sew a rot or remove a dirt, but to skulk the very far people‘s lives into a closer look. It was to make the translucent image transparent, or luminous to people who decided to shift their pupils away.


In Oslo opera house, artists recited parts of their biographies. They performed their “novellas“, but also their work stories as well. Art, as a house of metaphores, was the only tool in many different places to speak out the very reality. Through expressing the lives of the crashed, art could be a threat to the crasher. What a credit to us! And here a paradox rises up: it is art itself that can scare persons who tend to control the whole world through wars, economy, media or any sort of powerful means. But as an artwork gets banned, it is a confession by the banner that the work itself bears a reflexive power, that if it could grow up in the media or public, it can ban back the banner, from going on in their projects in the countries under conflict. Art itself still, within all the attempts to mold it or reorient it through media, or mass communication means, still able to multiply, strike, offend and bump. It holds the power of surprise out of the given very reality. Another reflexive effect of the banned artworks, films, books or songs, is that art turn into an exclusive medium sometimes to reveal the dirt and carelessness of politics. Banning one work stimulates the overture of many several banned social issues as well.

                                                                              Mazen Maarouf

Reykjavik, November 2012

Mazen Maarouf, is a Palestinian poet and journalist invited to attend ‘All That Is Banned Is Desired’ – the first international conference on artistic freedom of expression, October 25-27 – through the support of Cultures of Resistance Network, Freemuse and freeDimensional.

Text posted by permission of the author. Image reposted from


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