In Sweden they jail artists

YSTAD. Dan Park is incarcerated in a womens prison in Skåne. He was locked up two months ago and there are another two months to go before he is let out.

Its no fun but I a cope. They wont break me. I will never let the system defeat me and I regret nothing, says Dan Park to Dispatch International.

The autumn sun lights up the industrial area of Öja on the north-eastern periphery of Ystad. Among factories and open areas lies the correctional facility, which is now a prison for women but with a ward for men. Here we find public enemy number one.

Whereas people who rob, commit violence and rape are let off lightly by the Swedish judicial system and dont have to be incarcerated awaiting trial Dan Park, the man who makes pictures has been locked up for three months this year. He is so dangerous to Sweden that the criminal court in Malmö has decided that he must remain in jail while his case is being adjudicated. That is the way the system usually treats people who have committed serious violent crimes.

 

But the Swedish media think that is quite all right. The newspapers Dan Park is allowed to read are full of praise for the way he is being treated and he has no inkling of the massive support he is now getting in Denmark: There is a country on the other side of the Sound where people are aghast at Swedens treatment of Dan Park.

Dan Park beams. Is it true? he asks. I assure him that it is.

The last time I saw Dan Park was on August 7 in the Malmö courthouse, where he had to stand trial for the third time since spring. He was lead into the courtroom with handcuffs chained to a belt around his waist as if he had been a dangerous murderer. Now he is sitting in the visitors room of the womens prison dressed in the usual prison outfit green pants and green shirt. I notice a bit of grey in the 46-year-old mans black hair but his dark glasses do not entirely overshadow his mischievous look. He is not a broken man.

Im surprised to learn that Dan Park has been put in the sick ward.

Why would they do that?

I have no idea. Perhaps they think Im sick because Im accused of having denigrated a group of people.

 

 

The first month was not pleasant. Dan Park couldnt receive visitors, speak on the phone, read newspapers or watch television.

Fortunately, I could smoke as much as I wanted. Now Im only allowed two cigarettes a day when I take my daily walk outside.

I tried working for a while. For three hours a day. You are paid 33 kroner [approximately $ 4.50] for a days work.

During the first weeks of his incarceration Dan Park received postcards, letters and packages from people who wanted to express their support. Now its mostly an elderly woman from Alingsås who writes to him and has offered him to come and live with her when he gets out.

Dan Park laughs.

Im homeless, so you never know. I picture myself standing outside the jail on November 6 [when he has served two-thirds of his punishment, ed.] with two cartons and the first snow beating in my face. No money for a cab, so Ill have to walk to the station and take a train to Malmö.

 

 

Malmö. The thought of his hometown doesnt make him happy. It was here that he sneaked around at night putting up his provocative posters and enraging the entire establishment. Last spring he was jailed for two months and later for another. Locked up despite the fact that people guilty of grievous bodily injury are routinely released.
Then suddenly it happened: The gallery owner Henrik Rönnquist, contacted Dan Park to tell him that he had decided to exhibit his pictures. Rönnquist is the man who made a name for himself by exhibiting the works of the controversial artist Lars Vilks, and hardly was the news out before Henrik Rönnquist was met with a storm of condemnations. The citys strongman and former mayor Ilmar Reepalu expressed his hope that not a single person would visit the gallery to see the pictures of Vilks, crisis meetings were held and people were encouraged not to commit acts of violence in response to being offended.

But Henrik Rönnquist persisted, and now he wanted Dan Park elevate the street artist to the level of his art gallery, frame Dan Parks pictures behind glass and sell them for 4500 kronor a piece.

 

 

The court doesnt seem to believe me, but it is absolutely true that I had never anticipated what happened that the police would invade the gallery, arrest me and confiscate my pictures, says Dan Park.

First he was convicted of having pasted three posters on walls. Following his trial he blogged a comment describing what had taken place, published his pictures and was rearrested. Despite the fact no sentence had been passed on the possible criminality of his first action, he was jailed due to the risk that he would commit new criminal acts at a time when it had not even been determined that he had violated the law in the first place. Over the course of three days he received two convictions of two months and then one month in jail. His last conviction on six months came after his pictures had become works of art and exhibited at a gallery.
For Christs sake we live in Sweden, not in a dictatorship! Or do we? People can decide for themselves if they want to visit the gallery and look at my art. If they dont like my pictures, they dont have to see them.

 

But not only did the police turn up they stood outside the gallery and counted the number of visitors. After counting 15, they made their move and determined that forbidden art has been sufficiently disseminated to constitute a crime.

Dan Park is convinced that it was all planned by the police and the public prosecutor.

They wanted to arrest me. That was why they never talked to me before varnishing-day. They might have said: We hope youre aware that you risk offending certain groups of people. They might have given me a warning. Then I would have had a choice.

Would you have stood down if you had been given a choice?

No, but I wouldnt have been present at the varnishing and let them grab me. Dan Park laughs uproariously.

 
Now to the essential question:

Do you regret anything? Do you acknowledge that the people you have depicted and named are saddened and offended?

No! I dont believe their stories of being saddened and offended for a moment. Momodou Jallow [leader of the national organization of Afro-Swedes, ed.] and the gypsy couple Kaldaras are public figures with full access to all media. Their action in the court is a play to the gallery intended to enhance their status as victims and line their pockets.

But what about Yusupha Sallah, the man who was beaten up and almost thrown from a bridge in the Malmö district of Kroksbäck? Was it really necessary to include his picture on the poster depicting three blacks hanging from a bridge and with the caption: Hang on Afrophobians?

Yes, it was necessary. It wasnt about him at all. The thing was that this ugly attack was immediately labeled a racist hate crime committed by whites. Momodou Jallow went straight to the media and condemned white Swedish racists but as soon as it became clear that the perpetrators were Kurds, the entire debate vanished.

As a matter of fact, Yusupha Sallah hadnt even seen the picture before the police called him and informed him that he was offended. My picture was a kick in the butt of the politically correct and certainly not an encouragement to lynch blacks. It is completely insane to believe otherwise.

 

 

We talk for a while about this issue. Do Swedish journalists, policemen, prosecutors and courts really believe that Dan Park is a raving racist bent on slandering blacks and gypsies or is he the perfect target? Is the judicial system using him to send a signal to other Swedes that may not have understood that free speech is a thing of the past?

Thats the way I think it is, says Dan Park. The Malmö police has been heavily criticized for solving very few cases of hate crime, e.g., against the towns Jews. In addition they have themselves been involved in a number of so-called racist scandals such as calling rampaging youths in Rosengaard [an overwhelmingly Muslim district of Malmö, ed.] monkey devils. How convenient for them to get me. All of a sudden they had cleansed themselves.

How did Sweden get to this point? What happened?

I think that the Sweden Democrats entry into parliament [in 2010 the party more than doubled its vote in last weeks national elections, ed.] was the galvanizing factor. Suddenly political correctness was turned up several notches and accusations of denigration of certain groups went through the roof.

Perhaps you ought to move to Denmark? You might seek political asylum?

An apartment in Copenhagen is not a bad idea, says Dan Park and laughs. A room or two would suffice. I just hope its bigger than my current cell!

 

FACTS

April 4: Dan Park is sentenced to two months in jail for three posters.

April 9: Dan Park receives a further sentence of one month in jail for having blogged about the April 4 court case.

July 5: Dan Park is arrested during the varnishing at Gallery Rönnquist in Malmö, where nine pictures are confiscated.

August 21: Dan Park receives a sentence of six months in jail. The court decides that eight of his pictures are to be destroyed.

October 6-8: All three convictions are to be reviewed by the court of Skåne and Blekinge.

 

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