Freedom of the Arts #1 • Manfred Nowak: International Legal Framework: Freedom of Expression and Cultural Rights

Freedom of the Arts • Public Lecture Series • Winter 2023/24

Lecture #1 — November 13, 2023, 18:00–19:30

Manfred Nowak
International Legal Framework: Freedom of Expression and Cultural Rights

Traditionally, freedom of the arts has been understood as a special category of the civil and political right of freedom of expression. Indeed, the arts are a very powerful medium of expressing political, philosophical and other opinions. Article 19(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights explicitly mentions art as a medium through which “information and ideas of all kinds” shall be expressed, received, and imparted. Unless justified by specific and fairly limited reasons, such as the rights or reputations of others or the protection of public order, health or morals, censorship of arts or other restrictions on the creation, exhibition and dissemination of arts constitutes a violation of freedom of expression. In more recent years, artistic creativity and expression was put at the heart of the cultural rights discourse. Most importantly, the right to take part in cultural life and to enjoy the benefits of artistic production in Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights gained increased attention with the creation of the UN Expert and later Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights by the UN Human Rights Council in 2009 and 2012. The lecture will provide a short introduction to the relevant legal instruments protecting freedom of the arts and explore the limits of artistic freedom by way of selected examples. It will also discuss the risks of artists involved as human rights defenders (“artivists”) in the current political climate in different parts of the world.

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Manfred Nowak is co-founder and program director of the Vienna Master of Arts in Applied Human Rights. He is a renowned professor of international law and human rights, who taught at prestigious universities such as the University of Vienna, Stanford University, Utrecht University, Lund University, Graduate Institute of Geneva, University of Auckland, and Washington College of Law. Manfred Nowak is Secretary General of the Global Campus of Human Rights, which unites 100 universities across all world regions working on and teaching human rights. Furthermore, Manfred Nowak is co-founder of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights.


Freedom of the Arts

The lecture series inquires into the multifaceted terrain of “Freedom of the Arts” from different vantage points, each offering insights into complex contemporary challenges and their historical genealogies. The four evening sessions encompass (i) the international legal framework governing artistic freedom through freedom of expression and cultural rights, presented by Human Rights Expert Manfred Nowak; (ii) a critical exploration of ethical dimensions of the arts, navigating contentious debates on cancel culture and cultural appropriation, led by Art Historian and Sociologist Jens Kastner; (iii) an examination of artistic freedom as part of national security implications, with a focus on art subject to court cases in Russia, as unraveled by Art Historian Sandra Frimmel; and (iv) an investigation of digital transformations influencing arts and critical data, as undertaken by Artistic Researcher and Curator Manuela Naveau.

As these researchers delve into their respective domains, the lecture series aspires to spark cross-disciplinary inquiry and transversal dialogue: Which conditions are required for freedom of the arts, and which categories of rights (for an overview, see Polymenopoulou 2023) can guarantee those conditions? Which human rights treaties, codes, and instruments are relevant to the normative aspects of freedom of the arts, and what are their potential limits (see, e.g., the report on the state of artistic freedom by Freemuse 2023)? Which players and infrastructure promote and protect artistic freedom and how (on the role of the UN see, e.g., Cuny 2023)? In what socio-political climate does censorship of the arts thrive and which legitimate interests can be used to argue for a limitation of artistic freedom, balancing different interests? What ethical dilemmas emerge within the art world, and how does the broader cultural landscape grapple with issues of cancel culture and cultural appropriation? And which purpose do the “estrangement defense”, the “canonic defense”, or the “formalist defense” serve in defending the freedom of transgressive arts (Julius 2020)? To what extent are aesthetic judgments rendered (in)voluntarily when arts are debated in court (see Frimmel/Traumane 2018)? What’s the relation of the outdated distinction in free and applied arts to the “aesthetic model of freedom” (Menke/Rebentisch 2010) that developed with the discipline of Ästhetik as a sub-discipline to art history? In an era defined by digital transformation, what prospects and challenges arise for artists who intervene in algorithmic “pattern discrimination” (Apprich/Cramer/Chun/Steyerl 2018) and engage in a critical approach to data? The lecture series revolves around these questions, seeking to foster a deeper understanding of freedom of the arts through, amongst others, case study research, critical theoretical debate, and discourse analysis.

#1 Manfred Nowak: International Legal Framework: Freedom of Expression and Cultural Rights (November 13, 2023, 18:00–19:30)

#2 Jens Kastner: Between Cancel Culture and Cultural Appropriation: The Spectrum of Artistic Freedom (November 27, 2023, 18:00–19:30)

#3 Sandra Frimmel: Art as a Shield Against the Expansion of External Cultures: Why and How the Freedom of Art in Russia Plays a Significant Role in National Security Policy (December 18, 2023, 18:00–19:30)

#4 Manuela Naveau: Critical Data and the Arts: How Freedom of the Arts Fosters Understanding of Digital Transformation (January 8, 2024, 18:00–19:30)


Convenor: Lisa Stuckey, Applied Human Rights, University of Applied Arts Vienna


FLUX 1, VZA7 (3rd Floor)
University of Applied Arts Vienna
Vordere Zollamtstraße 7
1030 Vienna

Or via Zoom:
https://dieangewandte-at.zoom.us/j/62243779206 (Meeting ID: 622 4377 9206)


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