Mia Habib is a dancer and choreographer based in Oslo. Habib makes work that speaks to the major concerns of our time. She understands theater as a social and political space. In recent years, she has been working across genres and with various forms of overall art projects. During the Oslo Internasjonale Teaterfestival, Mia Habib Productions are presenting the performance How to Die – Inopiné at Dansens Hus.
In October 2018, Mia Habib Productions was awarded basic funding from the Norwegian Arts Council, receiving NOK 2.8 million a year for four years. The funding was noticed by an anonymous Facebook account that shares examples of what he thinks is a waste of state money, and which has also previously made a point of several choreographers receiving support from the Arts Council. The comment box below the Facebook post about Habib’s support was full of dissatisfaction with performing arts receiving public money. This was then followed up by the right-wing online newspaper Resett, which in a text about Habib’s support, links to a video for readers to see what she is working on. In the comment section below the post, racist and Islamophobic comments were flourishing. This led Habib to report Resett to the police for dissemination of hate speech, as the newspaper is responsible for the comment section and modification of its content.
What does artistic freedom mean to you? How is artistic freedom put at risk?
Artist freedom to me is freedom to formulate your projects and create the art you want without political interference. I find it difficult to talk about artistic freedom without taking into account what has happened in Norway in recent years. We have had clear examples of artistic freedom being put at risk. Then I think of Ways of Seeing, but not least of the discussions that have flourished again in recent months, where we have an Frp politician asking, during the Parliament’s question time, a question based on something as unreliable as an anonymous Facebook source. The fact that this is even possible; that a politician at Stortinget is allowed to do so – and not least that journalists in mainstream media do not immediately lead the discussion around the fact that this question is based on the premises given by an internet troll. This is also an example of something that I believe is threatening artistic freedom. You need to be fully aware of the arm’s length principle. Artistic freedom is central to a democracy.
Why do you think artistic freedom is important?
Artistic freedom is an important fundamental principle within the laws and regulations we have in a democracy, which should also relate to paragraphs dealing with racism, discrimination and hate speech. Regarding this, I think it is important that art is free, not least because art should be able to reflect and criticize existing power structures and political situations. In today’s political climate, both in Europe and globally, where we see the extreme polarity, I believe it is crucial that art can be the free, critical voice of the conversation. At the same time, I also believe that it is important that the arts should not rise above the legal clauses that stop us from discriminating others. Freedom of speech and hate crime can sometimes be in a bit of a negotiation with one another. I believe that art should deal with this as well. This in particular has not been a problem in Norway so far, but it could potentially be so.
Top photo: Tale Hendnes.