INTERVIEW: Reflections from Passion for Freedom winner Roberta Coni

The annual Passion for Freedom Art competition took place late last year in which a group of international artists were asked to address the subject of religion and human rights.

The exhibition comes directly from The One Law for All campaign against the Sharia Law in Britain. The Sharia law is an Islamic law based on a combination of sources, including the Quran and the Sunna.

Courtesy of Onelawforall.org

According to a report by One Law for All, in the Sharia law’s penal code, women can be stoned to death for sex outside of marriage, homosexuality is punishable by death and improper veiling is punishable with fines and imprisonment. A woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s and while a man can have four wives and can easily divorce, a woman must give justification for requesting a divorce, some of which are extremely difficult to prove.

In a law that values retribution as an appropriate form of justice, One Law for All fiercely campaigns against its implementation in the UK.  Civitas estimates that there are at least 85 Sharia courts in Britain that implement and enforce the Sharia law, mainly covering issues such as divorce. Considering the severe disadvantage women are at in the first place, (and the many that are unaware of their rights under British law) that proceedings are not recorded and that there is no legal accountability, it’s clear that activism and action is needed by the government who have so far been sluggish to react.

Fuelled by this need for action and legal equality, the artwork for the Passion for Freedom competition aims to reflect this injustice and covers issues ranging from child ‘marriage’ to women’s oppression.

After the exhibition, I had the opportunity to speak to one of the winning artists, Roberta Coni, about her views on the Sharia law and her winning piece, Erasing Herself

What was the motivation for taking part in the Passion for Freedom exhibition?

I believe that art is often considered only for its decorative aspect, so this seemed to me the perfect opportunity to denounce this mentality and bring attention to this tragic issue to people who are unaware.

My painting “Erasing herself” is a portrait of an old woman to which I removed, with a brush stroke, the features andher identity, as the Sharia dictatorship does. Personality, freedom and individual choices, are buried under a heavy silence and submission, thus denying all freedom and original identity of the woman. Where Sharia law is state law, a woman is, in terms of rights, a pariah.

What are your views on the Sharia law and has it been implemented in Italy?

Sharia is a religious code for living, found in the Quran and the Sunna, that covers all aspects of life. The woman’s role is always inferior to male relatives. Women are subjected to a limited life- their identity and individual freedom doesn’t exist, that should be a human right for any individual.

Freedom doesn’t exist in a world where female honour killings are still used in order to restore the social and political standing of a family or community. Where it is believed that the victim has violated traditional behavioural expectations for incorrectly covering the body or talking to an unrelated male.

It doesn’t exist where there is forced marriage and within that violence or physical intimidation, psychological abuse, blackmailing and threats of imprisonment.

In some cases the Italian courts have agreed to comply with the rules of Islamic law to permit the integration with other cultures but generally the Sharia law in Italy is barely accepted .

What inspired you to paint an older woman in relation to the theme of the religion and human rights?

I believe that the future can only be changed if the rules of the past can be subverted in terms of human rights. Very often tradition creates a climate of fear or passive acceptance with no way out and often it’s the older women who enforces these rules of tradition, rules with nobody can disobey.

I chose an elderly woman to represent the archetype of all the women who suffer almost unconsciously, but who can actually change the world. Often we tend to think that young people can subvert the rules, but I believe that through the experience of the old, their stories, their lives, the world can be changed for the better.

How has this theme influenced your work since?

Living in the western portion of the world, where the woman luckily enjoys the freedom of thought and actions, I have to admit that I’ve only approached this issue recently.

Next spring 2011 I will have a solo exhibition in Rome and Cortona ( Tuscany) with the support of the Cultural Heritage Office in Rome and various associations in defence of human rights. It will be not only be about the Sharia law but also on the theme of women’s oppression in the world.

I will start from the silence around the femicide in Ciudad the Juarez in Mexico.

I really loved the phrase of Agnieszka KolekThere are regimes that are afraid of art, but artists are not afraid of regimes’...that’s the way I want to use my art.

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