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  • Oct 25, 2023

Art Community Bitterly Divided Over Israel-Palestine Solidarity Statements

Clockwise from top left: Open Letter on Artforum IG; Erev Rav magazine’s response; painting by Peter Doig for Mosaic Rooms IG; Sharjah Art Foundation’s IG post.

Arts and cultural institutions across the globe have clashed over disparate statements regarding the ongoing violence in Gaza, which in two and a half weeks has led to the deaths of 1,400 Israelis and over 5,000 Palestinians, including at least one artist, two filmmakers, and more than 20 journalists. 

On October 19, a statement titled “Open letter from the art community to cultural organisations,” first published online by Artforum and subsequently by E-Flux, garnered more than 4,000 signatories, including from notable artists Nan Goldin, Kara Walker, filmmaker Laura Poitris, and academics Eyal Weizman, Saidiya Hartman, and Judith Butler. The letter called upon the arts community to demand that “the institutional silence” concerning the “urgent time of crisis and escalating genocide” in Gaza “be broken immediately.” The signatories note that they “reject violence against all civilians, regardless of their identify,” stating: “we call for ending the root cause of violence: oppression, and the occupation.”

On October 20, Artforum published a response by Dominique Lévy, Brett Gorvy, and Amalia Dayan, of Lévy Gorvy Dayan, who stated: “we condemn the open letter for its one-sided view” that ignored the “ongoing mass hostage emergency, the historical context, and the atrocities committed in Israel on October 7, 2023—the bloodiest day in Jewish history since the Holocaust.” Artforum also removed the Instagram post for the open letter, which had featured artist Emily Jacir’s installation of a refugee tent embroidered with names, Memorial to 418 Palestinian Villages Which Were Destroyed, Depopulated, and Occupied by Israel in 1948 (2021).

Shortly afterwards, more criticism emerged from the Israeli art community. On October 21, the Israeli-based Erev Rav art magazine took to Instagram to announce its disappointment over the “the omission of any substantive acknowledgement and condemnation of Hamas’s acts . . . in the wake of October 7.” The post details the horrors of that attack and the militant group’s concurrent abduction of over 200 Israelis—including women, children, and the elderly—who have yet to be released. “In the letter, the hostages are not part of the humanity [the signatories] are appealing for,” the post states, nor are “the 9 million people [in Israel] who have a right to exist.”  The letter was signed by several Israeli artists, such as Ilit Azoulay, Ronen Eidelman, Yonatan Amir, and Yael Bartana.

Graphic by JAVIE HUXLEY for migrantsinculture. Via Instagram.

Several cultural institutions in the Gulf have echoed sentiments expressed in the original open letter, including the Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF), the Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai, and Qatar Museums, which comprises several art and cultural museums in Doha. SAF, which had announced it was “firmly in solidarity with Palestinians in the face of the devastating genocide being carried out on Gazans and the 75 years of ongoing illegal Israeli occupation,” canceled the opening program of events for the upcoming show Lubaina Himid and Magda Stawarska “Plaited Time / Deep Water” on October 28, “in light of current circumstances.”

Many arts organizations also went on a general strike on Friday, October 20. Beirut Art Center postponed Marwan Rechmaoui’s opening of the exhibition “Municipalities” until October 23. In the UK, Delfina Foundation closed its show by Farah Al Qasimi, “Abort, Retry, Frail,” while The Mosaic Rooms, which is hosting an exhibition of emerging Palestinian artists, “In the Shade of the Sun,” closed for the day.

Meanwhile, on October 23, dozens of major Israeli institutions submitted a letter titled “Urgent: Appeal for a Strong Stance by ICOM on Recent Events in Israel,” to the International Council of Museums (ICOM), an NGO dedicated to maintaining museums’ ethical standards, demanding that ICOM condemn Hamas. “We also want to remind the ICOM community that Israel is a liberal democracy that protects freedom of expression, diversity, and the arts,” the letter reads, “These exact ideals are being attacked by Hamas in their assault on our cities and communities.” The letter was signed by Israel Museum director Suzanne Landau, Tel Aviv Museum of Art’s director Tania Coen-Uzzielli, and Yotam Yakir, director of the Haifa Museums.

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