(NEW YORK)— PEN America today called on the University of Houston to reschedule a postponed talk by the internationally acclaimed artist Shahzia Sikander and display her accompanying short film at a campus art installation that has been the focus of weeks of pushback from anti-abortion advocacy groups.

The talk by Sikander, a Pakistani-American visual artist and recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, was supposed to take place on Wednesday as the installation opened but it was postponed until fall, according to the artist.

Her installation at the University of Houston, “Havah … to breathe air, life” (2023), includes a statue created in response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The statue is currently installed on campus, but an accompanying short film has not been displayed as scheduled. Sikander says the cancellation of her talk and failure to show the film is “censorship.”

The university has increased security around the statue after weeks of protest by advocacy groups, who have described the statue as “satanic” and a “demonic abortion-obsessed effort” and have demanded its removal from campus.

In response, Kristen Shahverdian, PEN America’s senior manager for Free Expression and Education, said: “Artistic freedom is not optional on college campuses. As a public university, the University of Houston has an obligation to protect Sikander’s right to free expression against outside groups who wish to silence her views on abortion and women’s rights. We call on the university to reschedule her talk immediately, and to display her short film as scheduled. Anything less would be a grave violation of her rights as an artist and the rights of students and faculty who wish to experience her art.”

Art centering abortion, contraception, and women’s rights have also faced pushback and cancellations on campuses in Idaho and Florida in recent years.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], (201) 247-5057