London gallery LD50 courts anger with far-right ties

Anti-fascist activists accuse curator of far-right sympathies after exhibition of works by white supremacists.

Anti-fascist protests have become more frequent since Trump's election victory [File:Al Jazeera]

Around 250 anti-fascist protesters gathered in the London borough of Hackney to protest the LD50 art gallery and its showcasing of works by far-right creators.

The protest on Saturday near the inconspicuous-looking building in the heart of the British capital was the latest escalation in a growing campaign against the gallery's curator, Lucia Diego.

"We condemn businesses such as LD50 which promote and give a platform to racism, xenophobia and hate speech," said Hackney's mayor, Philip Glanville, in a statement delivered to the protesters.

He added that he had asked the police to look into whether the gallery had broken any laws.

"We should not allow hate to become normalised or acceptable.

Anger at Diego has grown over the past week because of the content of the exhibitions at the gallery and her decision to give platform to white supremacist ideologues.

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Works exhibited at LD50 included images of far-right mascot "Pepe the Frog" in the guise of a southern US plantation owner, images of US President Donald Trump, a memorial to spree killer Elliot Rodger, and other esoteric references to online white supremacist culture.

Last summer, the gallery hosted the "Neoreaction" conference, which featured guests, including American far-right ideologue Brett Stevens, who inspired mass killer Anders Breivik, according to the Norwegian's manifesto published prior to the attacks in Oslo and Utoya island.

After Breivik's killing of 77 people, mainly teenagers at a summer camp, Stevens said: "I am honoured to be so mentioned by someone who is clearly far braver than I."

"No comment on his methods, but he chose to act where many of us write, think and dream," he added further.

Local anti-fascist activist Sasha Simic, who attended Saturday's protest, told Al Jazeera information about the gallery's conduct only came out during the past week and was unexpected given Hackney's multicultural character.

"The thing about Hackney is its diversity. Lots and lots of communities live and work there and that's part of the glory of London."

Sasha Simic, Hackney resident and activist

"It's come as a bit of shock that in the heart of Dalston (an area in Hackney) that there's a place putting a platform up for these poisonous ideas," he said, adding: "There are very few places in London that are more multicultural than Hackney."

"The thing about Hackney is its diversity. Lots and lots of communities live and work there and that's part of the glory of London."

Diego has denied she is a racist and told local outlet, the Hackney Gazette, that an art gallery needed "to be able to open discourse".

However, Simic dismissed the idea that the works are merely artistic expression as "nonsense, absolute nonsense".

"I think we need to be clear, this woman agrees with the agenda of what's going on, that's been confirmed by her Facebook posts," he said referring to a leaked Facebook conversation involving Diego, where she appears to defend Trump's ban on Muslims entering the US.

"I don't like using the term alt-right, I prefer to use the more accurate label of 'fascist', but she has clear fascist sympathies.

"There is no artistic right for the persecution of other people or for expressing the idea that another group of people are manifestly inferior."

The campaign group 'Shut Down LD50', which is leading the fight against Diego, also accuses her of leaking the identities of her critics to far-right organisations.

Until Friday - when the post was deleted - the gallery's website published screenshots of social media posts made by its critics on its front page.

Diego also recommended journalists seeking more information contact an openly racist Twitter account for comment, later telling the Hackney Gazette, that she did so because it was "funny".

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In an email response to Al Jazeera regarding some of the allegations, Diego said Facebook conversations were made public by a fellow artist in order to "shame" her publicly.

On her stance on Trump's Muslim ban she said her comments were directed at how artists had reacted to the US leader's election.

"(I meant) I'm tired of seeing the 'art crowd' jumping/protesting against Trump at every given opportunity without a minute of consideration, just by default - so the comment was directed more towards this behaviour than anything else."

Teeside University's Nigel Copsey, a leading expert on fascism and anti-fascism, said there was no academic justification for showcasing far-right works that were detached from their critical context.

However, he warned the protest movement that has built up against LD50 could unintentionally give it publicity.

"Should far-right creative work be 'celebrated'? There is no educative value if the work is not critically contextualised," he said.

"In this case, the publicity that this generates gives this obscure gallery far more attention than it so obviously deserves."

The UK has seen a number of anti-fascist protests since the election of Trump.

An online sub-culture of white supremacists, known as the alt-right, has grown in popularity across North America and Europe in recent years and strongly backs the US president's policies targeting immigrants and Muslims.

Richard Spencer is a leading ideologue of the white supremacist alt-right movement [David J Phillip/AP Photo]

Source: Al Jazeera