SIMPLE LIVING & DARFURNICA

In 2006 I moved to the Netherlands to study art at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. After completing the first semester I was walking on the street when I was hit from behind by a large scooter. I flew about 20 meters and landed on my neck and back. Due to the accident I could not walk for several months, I lost the hearing on one ear, I lost my tasting sense and I had severe memory loss due to a concussion. This dramatically changed my life. I could not continue my studies and eventually it took 2 years of rehabilitation training to recover.

Due to the excruciating pain and frustration with my situation I became very depressed. As I was lying in bed unable to move, something happened while I was reading a newspaper. On one page there was a very small update on the situation in Darfur. On the opposite page they ran a full page story on Paris Hilton going to prison. I had felt irritated before with the way some parts of mass media prioritize between world matters and celebrity gossip, but something about seeing it like this sparked the idea of doing something. I started brainstorming on ways to express this in a drawing. This completely shifted my focus and rather than vanishing in self pity I promised myself, that when I got my health back I would make an art work about this and raise money for the Darfurian people.

My thought was: Since doing nothing but wearing designer bags and small dogs dressed in pink apparently is enough to get you in the news, maybe it is worth a try for people who actually deserve and need attention.
 
I mixed the cruel reality with showbiz elements in Simple Living and had the drawing printed on t-shirts and posters, which I sold to raise money for the organisation Divest for Darfur. I was hoping that the drawing would raise awareness about Darfur and start a debate about mass media language and the sometimes distorted relationship between small and big world news.
 
When I was sued by Louis Vuitton because of the bag appearing in my Simple Living drawing the campaign got a lot of media attention all over the world.
Unable to afford the court case I decided in the end to stop selling my t-shirts and start a new Darfur campaign, Simple Living 2. The attorney who advised me through the legal dispute told me, that if only I had made a more classical art work, like an oil painting, I would have been able to paint whatever I liked.
 
This gave me the idea to let the Simple Living boy live on in a modern version of Picasso's famous painting Guernica, and my painting Darfurnica was completed in September 2010.
 
It was exhibited for the first time in the Odd Fellow Palace in Copenhagen in January 2011 as a part of my show INTERVENTION.
 
The exhibition was timed with the elections in Sudan regarding the South becoming independent, and I aimed to use the show as a platform to make people aware of this process, as it was expected that the referendum could make the violence in Sudan escalate once again.
 
By the end of the exhibition I received an ex parte order from Louis Vuitton. They had gone to court without me and had Simple Living and Darfurnica banned. I was ordered by the court of the Hague to pay 5000 Euros for each day I continued to show Darfurnica or Simple Living in the gallery space or online.
 
I felt outraged by the court's decision and this time I chose to countersue. In May 2011 I met Louis Vuitton in the court of the Hague and had my first chance to explain to the judge why I should be allowed to include references to status symbols in my art works.
 
In June 2011 we received the verdict: The first ex parte order was crushed in its entity and I was now free to exhibit both Simple Living and Darfurnica. The court also ordered Louis Vuitton to pay a part of my legal costs.

YOU CAN DOWNLOAD THE VERDICT HERE:

Darfurnica, 2010. Oil on canvas, 350 x 776 cm.

Darfurnica in Kulturzeit.

A 1:1 print of Darfurnica in the court room in the Hague. This print was used as evidence.

The Danish museum Heart supported me by exhibiting Darfurnica.

During my legal dispute with LV, the most amazing thing happened. Other artists and cartoonists started supporting me by drawing bags. This one is by Argus.

Drawing by Ruben L. Oppenheimer

A 7 meter tall Simple Living boy appeared on a building in Maastricht.

On June 3rd, 2013 I had the most amazing experience at the UN in Geneva.

The UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Ms Farida Shaheed, presented her report on the right to artistic expression as part of the June 2013 session of the Human Rights Council.

The report addresses the multi-faceted ways in which the right to the freedom indispensable for artistic expression and creativity may be curtailed. It reflects upon the growing worldwide concern that artistic voices have been or are being silenced by various means and in different ways.

As a part of the event, the UN invited five artists to go on stage ans share their experiences with censorship as well as opinions on the importance of artistic freedom: Didier Awadi, Mohammed Aly Ansar, Jonathan Stanczack, Deeyah and myself.

This is the first time in history that artists have been invited to speak about artistic freedom at the UN. To me, it is definitely appropriate that artists have a voice in the discussion. And we did really well.

I feel so happy and proud to have been a part of this historical event, and it was amazing to see Simple Living on the screen at the UN.

In October 2012 I participated in the first world conference on art and censorship All That Is Banned Is Desired in the opera house in Oslo. This video shows my presentation.

The Danish Culture Minister, Per Stig Møller, gave the opening speech at INTERVENTION. (Danish)

 
You can download the speech using the links below.

Following my Simple Living campaign, I started Simple Living 2.

This drawing was a comments on the way Western media pressures women to be a "size zero", while other people are starving.

Image by Vokum

Drawing by Alexsandro Palombo

In November 2012 I was asked by the United Nations if they could use my Simple Living drawing on their website as illustration on the page about artistic freedom. Of course I said yes. It feels unreal that my drawing, which was once illegal, now lives on here.

UN in Geneva, June 3rd 2013.