— Salman Rushdie
— Steven Spielberg
Whatever position one takes on the subject of free speech, I believe we must both mourn and speak out against the deaths last week of seventeen people in Paris. Men and women who were murdered because of their work, their beliefs — or because fate placed them in the wrong place at the wrong time. We must also remember those who were injured in the attacks on the office of Charlie Hebdo, the kosher supermarket at Porte de Vincennes, and at Fontenay-aux-Roses and Montrouge.
My own view of freedom of expression is reflected in the quotes above by both Salman Rushdie and Steven Spielberg.
I believe that all rights carry obligations. Freedom of expression is not absolute; it is not carte blanche to deliberately offend, incite, mislead or cause hurt. It is a right long fought-for and hard-won by generations of people who came before us. As such, it must be protected against those who would steal it in fear or ignorance. It must also be used responsibly.
Outside the Birkenhead public library, on Auckland’s North Shore, are two sculptures by Jeff Thomson. Called ‘Words’ both are made of sheet steel with words cut into it. Mainly they are words that have special local significance, but some are universal — like “love.”
The symbolism of a sculpture constructed from text seems quite apt to me. In one sense, the words don’t matter. It wouldn’t affect the overall shape or strength of the work if instead of “love” the artist had cut “hate” — or for that matter “rice”, “snap” or “hats.” But it does matter; words matter; language matters. That is why our forbears fought so hard for the right of free expression, and which we must cherish.
Those of us who enjoy any freedom of expression make choices every time we speak, write, draw, photograph, sculpt. We can use our chosen forms of communication as a weapon, as a balme, or perhaps as a bridge between ourselves and others not like us.
Whatever choices we make; we must do so consciously.
This post was written as part of Sally’s Phoneography and non-SLR Digital Devices Photo Challenge at Lens and Pens by Sally. You can find out more here.