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London art gallery accused of having alt-right agenda

LD50 held ‘neo-reactionary’ talks with right-wing extremists, as well as an exhibition that included racist memes and references to white supremacy

A campaign by artists and academics in London has exposed the works of a gallery in Dalston, Hackney, where talks with speakers linked to anti-immigration, neo-nazis and anti-semitic content were held, as well as exhibitions that included racist memes.

LD50, based on Tottenham Road, has been accused by the Shut Down LD50 campaign of supporting neo-nazis. The campaigners described the gallery’s event list as “one of the most extensive programmes of racist hate speech to take place in London over the past 10 years.” 

In a statement, they added: “At first in secret, LD50 acted as a platform for a cross-section of the most virulent advocates of contemporary extreme-right ideology.” The group have planned to protest outside the gallery with other anti-fascist groups supporting on Saturday (February 25).

These ‘neo-reaction’ events, allegedy held in secret, happened in July and August 2015. Peter Brimelow was invited to the gallery as a speaker, a man described by the Southern Poverty Law Centre as a leading ‘anti-immigrant activist’ and publisher of anti-Semitic work. He’s also the president of the VDARE Foundation which has been called a ‘white supremacist group’ and publisher of hate speech in the U.S. Brett Stevens also spoke at LD50 – Stevens is the editor of the extreme right-wing site Amerika, and publicly supported Anders Breivik, the Norwegian right-wing terrorist who killed 77 people. On his website, Stevens said that the contensious events were held “under a veil of secrecy” to avoid protests.

“In the past 12 months, no other London-based group has worked so consistently with the aim of legitimising, and providing a speaking platform for, the most extreme fringes of the US right,” a Shut Down LD50 spokesperson told Dazed. “This in turn reflects the larger shift rightward triggered by the UK Brexit campaign and the content of Trump’s own mass rallies in the run-up to the US presidential election.” Reportedly, the gallery has become more open about its right-wing leanings as Trump has gained power, though for a short period of time, people were unsure as to whether it was an ironic critique of the current social climate or overt promotion of the alt-right agenda.

Sophie Jung, an artist opposing the gallery, posted a Facebook conversation she had with the gallerist Lucia Diego, in which Diego said she was unsure she disagreed with ‘the Muslim ban’ implemented by Donald Trump to curb asylum and immigration for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries to the U.S. The gallery then resposted the conversation on their site, as well as screenshots of those criticising their work. According to Andrew Osborne, a member of the Shut Down LD50 campaign group and PhD student, himself and around 40 others’ names were prepared for distribution in a PDF and sent to a neo-Nazi blog for their criticism.

“It is a worry and it’s intimidating, obviously there might be legal consequences perhaps, I can’t say too much, I mean I’ve had friends that have had their names added to neo-Nazi lists, and it is very frightening,” says Osborne. “It’s an issue with hosting these events in an ethnically diverse community that we live in, and that’s why it is quite surprising.”

An event held back in May saw LD50 partner with Goldsmiths University, though Osborne says they expect that the college’s reputation was being used to “gain legitimacy”. While not speaking for some of the artists or scholars involved in that particular exhibition about genetics, Osborne says, “most artists we’ve spoken to weren’t aware of the programme, or hadn’t looked at it too closely.”

Osborne relates that it has been difficult to pin down who the gallery’s financial backer is. Research into the known people running the gallery has turned up very little on who they actually are or if they have any experience in the art world. “It’s like they've generated this gallery and set their own interests into it,” explains Osborne. “People have confronted them, some of them have been uneasy, but a lot of artists thought it was an ironic gesture or a critical enquiry into the alt-right. There’s a lot of imagery re-appropriated in the art world, and increasingly in forms of art like post-Internet art.”

While the gallery’s Twitter account is now private, those defending their exhibitions are coming from alt-right blogs (like Amerika) or obvious Twitter trolls outside of the general art audience.

Shut Down LD50 are concerned that the gallery’s actual location is bringing white supremacy into a diverse area like Hackney. The gallery space is situated close to a Kurdish community centre on Kingsland road. The group is producing a leaflet to inform people in the community about what’s going on, and hopes to distribute these and gather forces for a protest planned at the gallery on Saturday (February 25). 

With a statement on their Facebook page, the gallery wrote about the backlash: “We feel that the exceptionally aggressive, militant and hyperbolic reaction this has provoked vindicates our suspicion that at some point, as a society, we have drifted into a cultural echo chamber. A position on the left has become the only permissible orientation for cultural practitioners and apparently any who dare eschew this constraint are now publicly vilified, delegitimated and intimidated with menaces.”

“Our position has always been that the role of art is to provide a vehicle for the free exploration of ideas, even and perhaps especially where these are challenging, controversial or indeed distasteful for some individuals to contemplate,” the gallery added. “We had thought that if it was to be found in any discipline, then art should have exemplified this willingness to discuss new ideas, but it has just become apparent to us that this sphere now (and perhaps for the last few years) stands precisely for the opposite of this.”

The concluding statement from LD50 added that people who contact them via Twitter, directing those to a Twitter account with a Pepe the Frog meme for an avatar and a TL discussing Breitbart editor Milo Yannopoulos and musing over the motivations to be part of the alt-right.

“We were very concerned that this could remain an art world controversy and to some extent we hoped it will remain an art world controversy, because a lot of artists have been scared to say anything, and there is a general silence,” says a spokesperson for Shut Down LD50. “Partly, because people are unsure about whether this is ironic or not. If it remained an art world controversy, it could be plausibly deniable, a lot of artists would say, ‘Look I need shows, I’m not going to rock the boat’.”

A statement from the campaigners affirmed: “Further research needs to be carried out in order to establish whether the gallery was founded with the conscious intention of using the London artworld as a screen for proponents of racism and hate speech, or whether its founders began a rapid shift rightward beginning in early 2016 at the very latest.”

A success for the campaign, organisers say, “will demonstrate that racists cannot take advantage of the prevailing political climate in order to propagate violent and exclusionary ideas in proudly diverse communities like Hackney”. They added: “Freedom of speech is an important ideal, but it can only be upheld in a society in which all groups are treated as equals; not in one in which some groups are treated as if they are inferior to others, whether because of ‘race’, gender or sexual orientation.”