Swedish artist displays prophet cartoon at seminar despite al-Qaida threat.
A Swedish artist displayed a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad to a seminar in Stockholm on Tuesday despite a death threat from al-Qaida in Iraq.
"Nobody has really seen this image and it has just become more and more impossible to show it, so I thought that ordinary people should be given the possibility to see it live," Lars Vilks told a crowd of about 100 people at a seminar.
He then held up the drawing — a rough sketch depicting Muhammad's head on a dog's body — to applause from the crowd at the Berwaldhallen concert hall in the Swedish capital.
Dogs are considered unclean by conservative Muslims, and Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.
On Sept. 15, the putative leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, offered rewards for the killing of Vilks and a Swedish newspaper editor who published the cartoon on Aug. 19.
Vilks said Monday police moved him to a secret location and told him he cannot return to his home following the threat.
Security guards searched the bags of visitors entering the concert hall where the 61-year-old artist joined a panel of speakers Tuesday for discussions on freedom of expression and Islam as a politicized religion.
During a question-and-answer session, a bearded man wearing a knitted skullcap walked up to a podium on the stage and delivered what appeared to be a threat against Vilks.
"I hope that your fate will be a lesson for others," the man said in broken Swedish, drawing an angry reaction from a majority of the crowd, who booed, whistled and shouted at the man to get off the stage.
The man, who didn't give his name or identify the group he was representing, left the auditorium with an entourage of about 10 people and security guards following closely behind.
After the seminar, Vilks said he took the al-Qaida threat seriously, but added he was not afraid.
"Because I'm brave," he said, laughing. "But if they are going to do something they will probably wait a while. It will be more dangerous a few weeks from now."
Vilks told the seminar that he made a series of drawings of Muhammad to test the boundaries of artistic freedom, saying "a work of art is successful when it meets resistance."
His drawings drew protests from Muslims in Sweden and abroad after Nerikes Allehanda, a newspaper in Örebro, published one of them in an editorial criticizing Swedish art galleries for refusing to exhibit the cartoons.
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt invited 22 ambassadors from Muslim countries on Sept. 7 to talk about the sketch in an attempt to prevent a repeat of last year's uproar over Danish newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Vilks is used to controversy
He is the creator of the controversial "Nemis" and "Arx" sculptures on the coast of Kullaberg in southern Sweden. The sculpture Nemis is a giant wooden walk-through maze that the artist, Lars Vilks, erected and maintains under the cliffs on the rocky beach of this peninsula in northwest Skåne, Sweden's southernmost province.
"Nemis" and a number of other artistic projects on the remote spot have been the nemesis of local authorities, who have tried with mixed success to eradicate the sculpture and surrounding artifacts. With its own internet site, the area was declared by Vilks as being the independent nation of "Ladonia." The spoof country (www.ladonia.net), which proclaimed its existence in 1996 upon about a square mile of palisading shoreline, is the “virtual nation” created by the artist.
In 2002 more than 3,000 Pakistanis wanted to become citizens in the northern European nation of Ladonia, the country's state secretary said at the time. Unfortunately, of course, it doesn't exist. The nation exists mainly on the Internet and in the mind of its creator.
"It all started a month ago when we began getting the first applications from Pakistan, and then the pace really picked up," said Vilks at the time, whose Ladonian title is state secretary.
"We got regular mail asking how to get to Ladonia and where our embassy in Pakistan is located," Vilks said.
The artist set up Ladonia in 1996 to protest an attempt by Swedish authorities to remove the two large abstract works of art he built.
Surprised and upset the Web site had given people false hope, Vilks temporarily shut down the site's citizen application facility. The imaginary country at the time already had 6,000 registered "citizens."
"I just spoke with my Minister of Internet. We are going to try and open it again, with a text warning people that we cannot provide jobs or housing," Vilks said at the time.
It was opened, you find it at www.ladonia.net
Staff and wire services