Danish museum to buy Muhammad cartoons which sparked global riots

The Royal Library is in talks to purchase the works; another Danish museum wants to put them on display


Copenhagen. The Museum of Danish Cartoon Art in Copenhagen is planning to buy the 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad which sparked global riots when they were published in European newspapers. More than 50 people died in the violence which followed.

“We hope we can secure all of the works to preserve them for the future. The caricatures have become a part of Danish history,” Royal Library spokesperson Jytte Kjaergaard told The Art Newspaper. She would not disclose whether the museum, part of Denmark’s national Royal Library, intends to put the cartoons on display.

However, the Danish Media Museum in Odense told The Art Newspaper it would like to show the works in an exhibition about freedom of expression. “If the library acquires them, we would like to show them together with media reports about the publication and the protests against it,” Ervin Nielsen, director of the Media Museum, said. He added that he is not worried the exhibition might provoke new protests. “As we would document the incidents around the publication and not simply show the works, I do not expect strong reactions. We do not want to provoke, but inform,” he explained.

The works, one of which shows the Prophet’s head on the body of a dog and another depicting him with a bomb in his turban, were first published in September 2005 by the Danish newspaper Jyllyands-Posten, and later reprinted in Norway, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. A number of protestors died during subsequent demonstrations in Afghanistan and Somalia, while Danish and other European embassies were attacked in many countries, mostly in the Middle and Far East.

Last month an editor in Belarus who published the cartoons in 2006 in the publication Zgoda, which was subsequently shut down, was sentenced to three years in jail for inciting religious and national hatred. His lawyer says he will appeal.

Three men are currently serving six-year jail terms in the UK for soliciting murder at a demonstration outside the Danish Embassy in London in February 2006. A fourth man was convicted of inciting race hate and jailed for four years. In Germany as we went to press, a Lebanese man is on trial, accused of planting suitcase bombs on a train in Cologne in July 2006. His alleged accomplice, Jihad Hamad, was given a 12-year sentence by a Beirut court for the same offence. Hamad told the Lebanese court that the bombs, which failed to explode, were planted in “revenge” for the publication of the cartoons.

The Museum of Danish Cartoon Art is in talks with several of the artists who produced the drawings, but an agreement has not yet been reached. “We have generally agreed that we want a museum to have the works, but everyone still has to take a final decision for himself,” Claus Seidel, one of the cartoonists and head of the Danish cartoonists’ association, told The Art Newspaper.

“Nobody wants to make a lot of money, some of us are even willing to donate the works,” he said. One work was sold shortly after it was published. The artist donated the money to charity.

Danish auctioneers Bruun Rasmussen and both declined to auction some of the works. The Danish National Museum which was also interested in acquiring the cartoons, has since dropped its plans after learning of the Cartoon Museum’s intentions.