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"Way to Freedom" (2018), an installation by Tatyana Vysokova, can be seen in the Passion for Freedom exhibition which runs from October 1-13 at La Galleria Pall Mall and the Royal Opera Arcade Gallery, London (©TATYANA VYSOKOVA)

The question of freedom of speech feels more and more heated by the day. It erupted on Twitter last month when the New Yorker announced that its editor David Remnick would interview Steve Bannon as the headliner of its Festival of Ideas. Within 24 hours the invitation was rescinded after several celebrities dropped out. For many this was too little, too late: the very suggestion of giving a platform to the alt-Right could never be revoked. Zanny Minton Beddoes, editor of the Economist, took the opposite view. Her magazine’s Open Future festival in September did feature Bannon, and she stood by her decision: “Our premise has been that progress is best achieved when ideas are tested in open debate.”

Aware that, in the West, the topic of freedom feels more urgent than ever, Camilla Forest, founder of the Passion for Freedom festival, is brimming with excitement about this year’s 10th edition, which asks: “What is freedom? How do you preserve it? How do you celebrate it?” The exhibition runs from 1-13 October at La Galleria Pall Mall and the Royal Opera Arcade Gallery, London.

Forest first began thinking seriously about freedom when her Polish friend Rafał Jędraszczyk was lost in 2002 near the mountains of Ararat in Turkey. He had travelled there to gather material for a documentary about the Armenian genocide of 1915 to 1923, an event that the Turkish government still denies. He was in his last year studying history at Jagiellonian University, Krakow, and the film was intended to be his Master’s thesis. The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs was involved in the search for Jędraszczyk, but he has never been found.

Forest worked with others to exhibit what remained of his project, including evidence of Armenian culture prior to 1915 paired with revealing images of the Armenian genocide. It was an early prototype of Passion for Freedom. On the first morning she received a call from Poland’s Culture Institute insisting that the show be taken down immediately due to its shocking content. Forest claims that it later transpired, during a meeting with the director, that the decision had been made only after the Turkish Embassy had threatened to withdraw future investment in the city of Wrocław. 

After 12 years working as a journalist in Poland, Forest took up a radio job in London. The move was especially meaningful for her because, as she recalls, her father always listened to the BBC as his only trusted news source. Characterising the nature of her job as a search for truth, Forest felt disappointed by what she saw as increasingly biased reporting in the UK. This led her to rally a circle of friends, primarily Polish women, and start planning Passion for Freedom.
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