An award-winning critic from The Times has given his verdict on the choice of Aung San Suu Kyi as guest director of the Brighton Festival
Richard Morrison said: “To call it a gimmick would be churlish.
“But you would need a saintlier disposition than mine to believe that the Brighton Festival’s new appointment was made solely to support human rights around the world, and not with an eye on drumming up extra publicity and sales in a chronic year for the arts.”
Writing in The Times yesterday (Friday 18 February), Mr Morrison said: “In this case, the definition of ‘guest director’ is stretched almost to breaking point.
“It’s not clear that the Burmese opposition leader has played any meaningful part in planning the festival.”
And he added: “Nor will she be present in May when the festival happens.”
He did concede: “If she left Burma now the ruling junta might well impose a permanent exile on her.
“That would make all her years of stoic endurance in her homeland seem meaningless.
“So what’s the point of Brighton’s gesture?”
Mr Morrison praised the Brighton Festival for being at the forefront of the revival of arts festivals which, he said, had become routine and predictable.
He said the Brighton Festival’s first two guest directors – Anish Kapoor and Brian Eno – were “creative artists who stamped the festival with their own ideas”.
Aung San Suu Kyi would be “a remote figurehead”.
But he added: “It’s clear that the mere association with her name and what she represents – courage; the indomitable human spirit; and the struggle for liberty, justice and democracy – has shaped Brighton’s programme this year.”
Mr Morrison cited Aung San Suu Kyi’s oft-repeated plea to the West: “Please use your liberty to promote ours.”
He said: “What will happen in Brighton may just awaken the consciousness, and stir the consciences, of thousands of festival-goers who would otherwise never give a thought to the Burmese or any other oppressed faraway people.
“And an arts festival that makes connections with the real world can make you think differently about what you are experiencing.”
He said that Fidelio, the Beethoven opera which is being performed at the festival this May, was a case in point.
The love story in Fidelio may seem far-fetched yet Aung San Suu Kyi had been “locked in her home for 15 years, separatetd from her husband who was prevented from entering Burma even to say goodbye when he was dying of cancer”.
He concluded: “Whatever the underlying motivation, Brighton’s decision to celebrate one of the finest (heroines) should be applauded, not mocked.”
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