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  • Jun 01, 2022

Documenta Participants Threatened with Violence

Interior view of the the vandalized Werner-Hilpert-Strasse 22 (WH22) in Kassel, Germany. Copyright and courtesy Documenta.

On the night of May 27–28, an unknown person or group vandalized a venue of the upcoming documenta fifteen in Kassel, Germany, where the Palestinian collective The Question of Funding plans to exhibit. The vandals broke into the building at Werner-Hilpert-Straße 22 (WH22) and spray-painted the name of a young fascist politician and a threat of murder on the ground-floor staircase and second-floor walls. The Question of Funding is using the WH22 venue to showcase artists and a collective from Palestine, and is also working on a project about developing its own currency.

The Indonesian collective ruangrupa, the artistic directors of documenta fifteen, which is due to open on June 18, called the act of vandalism a “politically motivated threat,” and “an attack on all of us, lumbung members and artists.”

Documenta announced on May 31 that it had informed the security services and filed a criminal complaint over the break-in. The organization also announced it will add additional security to the venues and special training for its staff. The lord mayor of Kassel, Christian Geselle, vowed to do “everything necessary to ensure the safety of the participants and guests.”

The news of vandalism was first widely publicized on May 29 through a Facebook post by the South African artist Candice Breitz. According to the post, the Ruruhaus venue, which had been the headquarters for the ruangrupa team, was defaced in April by anti-Muslim stickers reading, “Freedom instead of Islam! No compromise with barbarism! Fight Islam resolutely!” as well as “Solidarity with Israel.” 

The attack on the WH22 venue comes after right-wing groups have made accusations of antisemitism against documenta fifteen organizers and participants, including the members of The Question of Funding. These initial, unfounded allegations by a person claiming to be a local organization were amplified in Germany’s rightwing media outlets, including Die Zeit, leading to accusations that documenta was a forum for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

Subsequently the Central Council of Jews in Germany criticized a series of talks that Documenta had planned to hold in May about antisemitism and anti-Muslim racism, as “having a clear bias against antisemitism.” Ruangrupa clearly rebutted the Council’s allegations against documenta fifteen in a statement published on May 7 by e-flux, and criticized the Council’s “attempt to effectively deplatform recognized scholars whose views they don’t share.” Meanwhile ruangrupa lamented that in Germany, “the accusation of ‘BDS proximity,’ from which in turn the accusation of ‘Israel-related antisemitism’ is derived, primarily affects people from the Global South and especially from the Middle East and has led to censorship, exclusions and disinvitations.” The German parliament passed a motion in May 2019 labeling the BDS movement as antisemitic, a decision numerous cultural groups decried after several high-profile cultural figures were stripped of prizes or barred from speaking at events.

The latest act of vandalism at WH22 featured the name of the young neo-falangist Spanish politician Isabel Medina Peralta, who has called for violence against immigrants and the extermination of Jews in Europe. Isabel Peralta was denied entry to Germany in March for carrying neo-Nazi propaganda including a flag with a swastika. She previously was given a “scholarship” by the German neo-Nazi group known as Der III Weg (“The Third Way”) to spend several months with the group at its headquarters in Düsseldorf. The vandals also tagged the numbers “187” on the walls, a reference to the portion of the California penal code for capital offenses and popularized in 1990s music as slang for killing someone.

Ruangrupa said the group was “wishing for a working atmosphere where acts of violence toward the artists’ persons, venues, and artworks cannot be tolerated . . . We are counting on the solidarity and friendship that we have built together, including within the city’s ekosistem [sic] over the past years, to make this intention attainable.”

Artists have also raised concern about the safety of many international visitors, and also the intention to use the main venue, the Fridericianum, as a dormitory for the many international guests traveling to Kassel for workshops, performances, and other collective activities during the quinquennial’s 100-day run through September 25.