The File Room: an internet archive of censorship incidents

POSTED BY: Svetlana Mintcheva | Fri Dec 6th, 2002 1 a.m.

Aristophanes’ plays were banned in the 5th century B.C. because of obscenity and anti-war themes; Confucius' writings were incinerated around 250 BC after a change of dynasty made them politically incorrect; in 1933, a New York court declared a set of pictures of Michelangelo's Last Judgment fresco in the Sistine Chapel obscene; in 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against the life of Salman Rushdie for the publication of the novel Satanic Verses; in 1999, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani threatened to cut off funding to the Brooklyn Museum of Art and evict it from the building because the Museum refused to remove one work from an art show; in 2001, books from the popular Harry Potter series were banned from schools and burned in churchyards in the United States. Manifestations of the control of expression are historically and culturally specific. Nevertheless, close investigation reveals recurring themes and issues.

The File Room – an Open Forum

The File Room, a web-based interactive archive of censorship cases, is open to submissions by organizations and individuals locally, nationally, and internationally. The project was initiated by artist Antoni Muntadas and originally produced by the Randolph Street Gallery in Chicago in 1994. It then went on the Internet as an open submissions archive. In 2002, the National Coalition Against Censorship* re-programmed and updated the archive and is currently maintaining it. The File Room already contains information on hundreds of incidents dating from the 5th century BC to the present. More cases from around the world are added every day.

Our Goals: Documentation and Resistance

The File Room locates acts of censorship in relation to social settings, political movements, religious beliefs, and economic conditions. The wider understanding of censorship adopted by The File Room allows it to record instances of censorship through market mechanisms, the censorship of private galleries or that of schools and colleges, institutional self-censorship, as well as suppression of work by limiting its distribution or refusing it publicity.

The File Room is not only a database or a tool for facilitating critical discourse on the subject of censorship; it is also a tool of resistance, i.e. a tactical medium. It makes public those actions of governmental and private institutions (as well as individuals), which are usually intended to remain out of sight. To resist the suppression of symbolic speech, we have to acknowledge how pervasive and interconnected censorship incidents are by recording the many cases of deletion, exclusion, or suppression of speech.

To submit a case or search the archive, go to

For more information contact Svetlana Mintcheva at 212-807-6222 ext. 23/