« Previous | Main | Next »

Are there limits to artistic license?

WHYS Team WHYS Team | 21:20 UK time, Friday, 30 July 2010


The author of the international bestseller The Bookseller of Kabul is in trouble. Asne Seierstad's book tells the story of an Afghan family's life in Kabul after the fall of the Taliban. But one of the family members has successfully sued the author for breaching her privacy. The case has got people around the world talking about the limits of artistic license. So is this a slap in the face for freedom of expression?

The book contains tales of the family's sex lives and "forbidden loves" which the family say has left them feeling "humiliated". Seierstad spent five months with the family and Conor Foley argues that she's violated their hospitality

she does not seem to have understood the absolute centrality of the concepts of "hospitality" and "namos" (literally the "purity, virtuousness, and nobleness of the female members of the family") to Afghan society. The idea that you could accept someone's hospitality and then spy on them to violate their namos is completely shocking

But Jonathan Heawood disagrees, he says this sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of expression

What would it mean for literature if all characters based on real people were removed from the record? No Buck Mulligan in Ulysses; no Casaubon in Middlemarch...Literature does not respect the boundary between public and private; in fact, it is all about overstepping that mark.

Just last week a similar case came up in the U.S. The late painter Larry Rivers made films of his daughters going through puberty. The films now belong to Larry Rivers Foundation, but one of the daughters is asking for them back because they bring up painful memories for her. The foundation haven't returned them yet because they say their job is to protect the art. Alix McKenna concedes the tapes may have artistic value, but says they should be returned

There is no way to separate any artistic achievement that the films may contain from their inherently exploitative, prurient nature.

So what are the limits of artistic license? Does freedom of expression trump personal sensitivities? Or is some art unjustifiably intrusive?

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.