ACT NOW! Submit your story to ArtLeaks and end the silence on exploitation and censorship! Please see the submission guidelines in the "Artleak Your Case" page
Submitted and current instances of abuse are in the "Cases" section
To find out more about us and how to contribute to our struggles, please go to the "About ArtLeaks" page
Please consult "Further Reading" for some critical texts that relate to our struggles
For more platforms dedicated to cultural workers' rights please see "Related Causes"
For past and upcoming ArtLeaks presentations and initiatives please go to "Public Actions"
As artists in the exhibition La bestia y el soberano/The Beast and the Sovereign, we express our indignation and disgust for the current situation at the MACBA concerning said exhibition and the course of events up to the present moment. We condemn as authoritarian and regressive the way in which the MACBA director, the consortium and the managing committee have operated.
At this moment we as artists are communicating on how to respond. We are researching what actions we can take in protest of the course of events. Our protest is directed not only at the firing of the curators, but, more broadly and more fundamentally, at the way in which our work and this exhibition has become a pawn in a power play that reveals a complete lack of democracy in the institute, a cynical hypocrisy as regards to the content of the work and exhibitions the institute displays, and the bankruptcy of the integrity and credibility of this museum.
Specifically we object to the following:
01. The acceptance of cessation of Chief Curator Valentín Roma and the Head of Public Programs Paul B. Preciado by the Executive Committee of MACBA is an acceptance of the argument put forward by the ex-director of the museum Bartomeu Marí and consequently an endorsement of the censorship of freedom of cultural expression that triggered the crisis.
02. The Executive Committee of the MACBA does not represent the plurality of civil society, nor does it cover all actors in the cultural sector, which put into question its decision to dismiss the curators of the show.
03. We reject the instrumentalization that governing body and Executive Committee of MACBA are conducting in a process of re-democratization of the institution opened by the crisis provoked by Mr. Bartomeu Marí.
04. We express our disagreement with the statement issued by MACBA’s workers suggesting the existence of interferences during production process by the curatorial team. The artists did not perceive any irregularities.
As artists in the exhibition La bestia y el soberano/The Beast and the Sovereign, we express our solidarity with the curatorial team who did not accept the censorship of this exhibition. We condemn as authoritarian and regressive the MACBA director’s refusal to open the exhibition as it was conceived, with all the works included.
We all were aware that we were participating in an exhibition which was a polemical intervention in political debates on sovereignty taking place these troubled days in Spain, on the verge of the most important shift in political hegemony in its recent history.
Cancelling the exhibition thus means suppressing a project designed to encourage public, productive and progressive debate in such a context. This unfortunate fact highlights the contradiction of promoting a project as an institution, and then finally not daring to support it.
Polemics and public debates are the essence of democracy and the mission of the museum is to contribute to that. With this decision the museum is betraying its mission, but also its own history, characterised by an outstanding contribution to the radical reinvention of the museum as a public space.
Efrén Álvarez, Angela Bonadies and Juan José Olavarría, Peggy Buth, Ines Doujak and John Barker, Edgar Endress, Oier Etxeberria, Eiko Grimberg, Banu Cennetoglu and Philippine Hoegen, Jan Peter Hammer, Geumhyung Jeong, Julia Montilla, Prabhakar Pachpute, Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley, Jorge Ribalta, Wu Tsang, Stefanos Tsivopoulos, Viktor Vorobyev & Yelena Vorobyeva, Sergio Zevallos.
En estos momentos las y los artistas estamos debatiendo sobre cómo responder, valorando las a tomar acciones como medida de protesta por el curso de los acontecimientos. Nuestra queja se dirige no únicamente al despido de los comisarios, sino fundamentalmente a la manera en que nuestra producción está siendo utilizada como un peón en un juego de poder; acto que revela la total falta de democracia de la institución, la quiebra de su integridad y su credibilidad, además del cinismo y e hipocresía que se desprenden en relación con las exposiciones y los programas pedagógicos que desarrolla.
Específicamente manifestamos los siguiente:
01.- La aceptación de la Comisión Delegada del MACBA del cese del Conservador en Jefe Valentín Roma, y el Responsable de Programas Públicos, Paul B. Preciado, supone el reconocimiento de la argumentación esgrimida por el ex-director del museo Bartomeu Marí y, en consecuencia, de la censura de la libertad de expresión cultural que desencadenó la crisis.
02.- Que la Comisión Delegada del MACBA no representa a la pluralidad de la sociedad civil, ni contempla a todos los agentes del sector cultural, por el que ponemos en entredicho su decisión de cesar a los comisarios de la muestra.
03.- Que rechazamos la instrumentalización que en un proceso de re-democratización de la institución abierto por la crisis provocada por el Sr. Bartomeu Marí están llevando a cabo los órganos de gobierno y la Comisión del MACBA.
04.- Que manifestamos nuestro desacuerdo con el comunicado emitido por trabajadoras/es que sugería la existencia de injerencias durante el proceso de producción por parte del equipo comisarial. Las/os artistas no hemos percibido ninguna irregularidad.
Las y los artistas participantes en la exposición La bestia y el soberano queremos manifestar nuestra solidaridad con el equipo curatorial, así como nuestra oposición y rechazo a la decisión autoritaria y reaccionaria del Director del MACBA de cerrar la muestra.
Eramos conscientes de participar en una exposición que suponía una polémica intervención en los debates que sobre soberanía están teniendo lugar en el Estado español; discusiones que se enmarcan en un importante cambio en la hegemonía política de su historia reciente.
Cancelar la exhibición es, pues, reprimir un proyecto concebido para alentar un debate público, productivo y progresista en tal coyuntura. Este infortunado hecho pone en evidencia la contradicción de promover un proyecto que la institución, finalmente, no se atreve a asumir.
Los debates públicos son la esencia de la democracia, y la función de un museo es contribuir a ellos. Con su decisión la institución está traicionando su misión. Pero también su propia historia, caracterizada por una destacada contribución a la radical reinvención del museo como un espacio público.
Efrén Álvarez, Angela Bonadies and Juan José Olavarría, Peggy Buth, Ines Doujak and John Barker, Edgar Endress, Oier Etxeberria, Eiko Grimberg, Banu Cennetoglu and Philippine Hoegen, Jan Peter Hammer, Geumhyung Jeong, Julia Montilla, Prabhakar Pachpute, Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley, Jorge Ribalta, Wu Tsang, Stefanos Tsivopoulos, Viktor Vorobyev & Yelena Vorobyeva, Sergio Zevallos.
For updates please follow: https://labestiayelsoberano.wordpress.com/
//Please scroll down for English
Esta semana el director del Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Barcelona, Bartomeu Marí, canceló, a un día de su inauguración, la exposición “La Bestia y el Soberano” comisariada por Hans D. Christ, Iris Dressler, Paul B. Preciado y Valentín Roma.
El motivo de la cancelación fue el pedido de Marí de retirar de la muestra la escultura ¨Not dressed for conquering” de la artista austríaca Ines Doujak en donde en tono satírico, se alude a la figura del ex rey Juan Carlos I en un discurso sobre las relaciones coloniales. Ante la negativa de los comisarios de retirar la pieza, se decidió cancelar la muestra.
Luego de reabrir la exposición ante las críticas y protestas tanto locales como internacionales, despidió a Paul B. Preciado Jefe de Programas Publicos y a Valentín Roma jefe de Curadores y presentó su dimisión.
Esta semana el director del Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Barcelona, Bartomeu Marí, canceló, a un día de su inauguración, la exposición “La Bestia y el Soberano” comisariada por Hans D. Christ, Iris Dressler, Paul B. Preciado y Valentín Roma. El motivo de la cancelación fue el pedido de Marí de retirar de la muestra la escultura ¨Not dressed for conquering” de la artista austríaca Ines Doujak en donde en tono satírico, se alude a la figura del ex rey Juan Carlos I en un discurso sobre las relaciones coloniales. Ante la negativa de los comisarios de retirar la pieza, se decidió cancelar la muestra. Todo está en orden L*s estudiantes del Programa de Estudios Independientes (PEI) del Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Barcelona (MACBA) rechazamos radicalmente el acto de censura ejecutado por el director del museo Bartomeu Marí a la exposición “La Bestia y el Soberano”, comisariada por Paul B. Preciado, Valentín Roma, Hans D. Christ e Iris Dressler. En este sentido exigimos el cese de Marí como responsable visible de este acto injustificable que confirma una estructura de funcionamiento antidemocrática.
Este acto de censura, de amordazamiento, es un gesto de represión ante las disidencias de las prácticas artísticas y el pensamiento crítico, y nos oponemos a que el Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Barcelona, al igual que el parlamento o la fuerza policial, se convierta en otro aparato represivo del Estado en contra de artistas, estudiantes, movimientos sociales, intelectuales y trabajadores. Consideramos que el museo siendo una institución pública, no debe estar sujeto a intereses particulares y debe abrirse al debate y a la discusión. Que la censura haya llegado a las salas de exposiciones nos alerta de la falta de libertad a la hora de plantear discursos plurales sobre nuestra propia historia y nuestras propias instituciones, que pagamos todos. La condición democrática y autónoma de nuestras instituciones lo entendemos como un garante del Estado democrático, y por ello esta situación nos parece de extrema gravedad en lo que apela a la ciudadanía. Como estudiantes del Programa de Estudios Independientes expresamos nuestra preocupación por la continuidad de esta iniciativa de enseñanza-aprendizaje-militancia que en este momento se encuentra amenazada.
Este espacio para la construcción de pensamiento crítico, expresiones artísticas e incidencia pública tiene un recorrido de varios años en el que muchos de sus participantes son referentes en el campo artístico, activista e intelectual de forma transfronteriza y global. Sentimos que estas acciones represivas contra el arte revelan los pasos cada vez más evidentes de un sistema de poder ilusoriamente democrático que pretende manipular la potencia de las practicas y del pensamiento disidente.
Firman este documento: L*s estudiantes del PEI 2014-2015, a 20 de marzo del 2015 #todoestaenorden en el #macba #noalacensura
This week, the director of the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art(MACBA), Bartomeu Marí, cancelled, a day after its opening, the exhibition “The Beast and the Sovereign” curated by Hans D. Christ, Iris Dressler, Paul B. Preciado and Valentín Roma.
The reason for the cancellation was Marí’s demand to remove the sculpture “Not dressed for conquering ” by the Austrian artist Ines Doujak, which satirically alludes to the figure of the former King Juan Carlos I in a speech on colonial relations. Given the refusal of the curators to remove the piece, it was decided to cancel the show.
After reopening the exhibition a few days later, after both local and international criticism and protests, Paul B. Preciado was dismissed as Head of Public Programs, while curator Valentín Roma resigned.
Statement of Pei (Independent Studies Program) MACBA students
The students of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona (MACBA) Independent Study Program (PEI) radically reject the act of censorship executed by the director of the museum, Bartomeu Marí, towards the exhibition “The Beast and the Sovereign,” curated and commissioned by Paul B. Preciado, Valentín Roma, Hans D. Christ and Iris Dressler. We demand that the decision to “dispense with” Valentín Roma’s role as Chief Curator and Paul B. Preciado’s role as the Director of Public Programs whose positions have been terminated, be revoked and we demand their immediate restitution.
This act of censorship, of silence, is a gesture of repression facing dissident artist practices and critical thought, and we oppose that the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona, just as the Parliament or police force, become a repressive apparatus of the state against artists, students, social movements, intellectuals and workers. We consider that the museum, as a public institution, should not be subject to particular interests and should open itself to debate and discussion. That censorship reached the exhibition halls and public programs alerts us towards a lack of freedom when plural discussions about our own history and our own institutions are proposed, which we all pay for. Valentín Roma and Paul B. Preciado have demonstrated their commitment with the construction of a plural space through their curatorial proposals, seminars, Masters classes, and multiple proposed activities, but most of all through their ethical cohesion. We defend the democratic and autonomous condition of our institutions and because of this we believe the current situation to be of extreme gravity in how it calls its citizens into being.
As the students of the Independent Study Program we express our concern for the continuity of this teaching-learning-militancy which at this moment is threatened. This space is for the construction of critical thought, artistic expressions and public access, of which Paul B. Preciado is an indispensable part, he has many years of experience and many of his participants are important artists, activists and intellectuals who appeal to a transborder and global perspective. We feel that these repressive actions against art reveal the steps being taken each day by an illusory democratic power that seeks to manipulate the impact of dissident thought and practice.
The students* of PEI 2014-2015, March 23, 2015
Blanca del Río
Melina Ruiz Natali
dune xara sacchi
Editor’s note: Bartolomeo Marí has also resigned as director of MACBA.
The Exhibition “The Beast and the Sovereign” That Should Have Opened Today at MACBA Has Been Censored (Barcelona, Spain)
Four days after the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona (MACBA) decided to cancel the exhibition “The Beast and the Sovereign” (co-produced by the Wurttemberg Kunstverein and MACBA) on the day of the scheduled opening (March 18), on the morning of the 21st March, the exhibition was, surprisingly, opened: including the sculpture by artist Ines Doujak, which originally led to the closure of the exhibition when the curators refused to remove the work despite being pressured to do so.
Bartolomeo Marí, MACBA director stated: “The publicity given to the work and the views expressed by many different sectors of society, from the art world, culture, politics and the media, as well as international art professionals, have made me reconsider the initial decision. I never believed that my gesture was one of censorship: I perceived it as a disagreement with the inclusion of a particular work and the effects of its possible readings.”
Artists included in this exhibition: Efrén Álvarez, Angela Bonadies and Juan José Olavarría, Peggy Buth, Martin Dammann, Ines Doujak and John Barker, Juan Downey, Edgar Endress, Oier Etxeberria, León Ferrari, Eiko Grimberg, Masist Gül (presented by Banu Cennetoğlu and Philippine Hoegen), Ghasem Hajizadeh, Jan Peter Hammer, Geumhyung Jeong, Glenda León, Julia Montilla, Rabih Mroué, Ocaña, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Prabhakar Pachpute, Mary Reid Kelley, Jorge Ribalta, Hans Scheirl, Wu Tsang, Stefanos Tsivopoulos, Viktor Vorobyev & Yelena Vorobyeva, and Sergio Zevallos.
Statement of the four curators of this exhibition: Hans D. Christ, Iris Dressler, Paul B. Preciado and Valentín Roma
The Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona (MACBA), Bartomeu Mari, has declared yesterday, March 18, 2015, that the exhibition ‘The Beast and the Sovereign’, co-produced by the MACBA and the Württembergischer Kunstverein (WKV) Stuttgart, has been cancelled.
Working on Jacques Derrida’s seminar ‘The Beast and the Sovereign’, the exhibition deals explicitly with the notion of “sovereignty”: the logics of power related to the sacred; to sexual and gender norms; to modern disciplinary institutions and to debt economy.
The four curators of this exhibition, Iris Dressler, Hans D. Christ, Paul B. Preciado and Valentín Roma, declare:
The “irresolvable disagreements” between the curatorial team and the director of the MACBA refer to Ines Doujak’s sculpture “Not Dressed for Conquering”, from her ongoing art and research project “Loomshuttles / Warpaths”, which was shown at the last Sao Paolo Biennale.
The MACBA’s director considered that Ines Doujak’s work “Not Dressed for Conquering” was not “appropriate” and could not be exhibited within the museum. The curatorial team thinks, on the contrary, that the work inscribed itself within the tradition of parody, carnival sculptures and iconoclast caricatures. The work was not meant to insult a private person, but to reformulate critically a collective representation of sovereign power.
The curators never hid any information about the exhibition to the director of the museum: he was informed by Paul B. Preciado and Valentín Roma of the concept and the full list of works of the exhibition. The director had validated the project and not only its text and description but also the list of artists were already published in the MACBA’s internet page months ago.
Each and every work of the exhibition calls into question, on their own means, different uses of sovereignty. In the case of Ines Doujak, first and foremost white male sovereignty in regard to colonial and sexual exploitation; in the case of the artists from Kazakhstan, Viktor & Yelena Vorobyeva, the exercise of totalitarian power; in the case of Sergio Zevallos, the use of sacred and military iconography as well as normative sexuality, to name just a few.
The removal of Ines Doujak’s piece would not only have irreparably compromise the exhibition concept as a whole but also puts into question our understanding of art, freedom of expression as well as of the role of the museum within contemporary society. Under this circumstances, the act of canceling the exhibition is an act of censorship.
We believe that the meaning of artworks is open to public interpretation and cannot be fixed in advance. The exhibition is meant to construct a public sphere where debate and critical practice can take place.
The present situation forces us to rethink the relationship between critical practice, art and the museum. The decision of the director of the MACBA jeopardizes not only this particular exhibition but also reveals a non-democratic functioning of public cultural institutions. The curatorial team understands and claims the museum of contemporary art as a public institution which limits should not be defined by private interests.
The curatorial team regrets MACBA’s institutional decision and expresses its gratitude to the different teams working at the MACBA for their excellent work during the preparation and the installation of the exhibition. The directors of the Württembergischer Kunstverein (WKV) Stuttgart have decided to continue the project and open the exhibition as it was planned for the MACBA in Stuttgart as soon as possible.
Hans D. Christ, Iris Dressler, Paul B. Preciado and Valentín Roma
Read more: MACBA Cancels Exhibition a Day Before Opening (ArtSlant)
Julkaisutilaisuus / book launch “Art Workers – Material Conditions and Labour Struggles in Contemporary Art Practice”
//Please scroll down for English
Tervetuloa kirjan Art Workers – Material Conditions and Labour Struggles in Contemporary Art Practice julkistamiseen HIAP Projektitilassa (Galleria Augustan yhteydessä Suomenlinnassa) lauantaina 21. maaliskuuta klo 16:00. Kirjan lyhyttä esittelyä seuraa keskustelu taiteesta ja työstä paikallisessa kontekstissa. Kutsuttuna vieraana tilaisuudessa on Nora Sternfeld, Aalto-yliopiston taiteen kuratoinnin ja kommunikoinnin professori.
Tilaisuuden keskeisiä kysymyksiä ovat: Mitkä ovat nykytaiteen tuotannon aineelliset ehdot? Miksi näyttelytoiminta perustuu taiteilijoiden ilmaistyöhön? Miksi taiteilijat maksavat näyttelyn pitämisestä sen sijaan että heille maksettaisiin? Miten taistella prekaaria työtä vastaan? Millaisia malleja on taidetyöntekijöiden järjestäytymiseen? Miten voimme uudelleenpohtia taiteilijaliittojen ja -järjestöjen toimintaa?
Kirja Art Workers – Material Conditions and Labour Struggles in Contemporary Art Practice esittää tapaustutkimuksia Virosta, Suomesta ja Ruotsista, kerää taiteilijoiden kokemuksia, keskustelee aktivistisista käytännöistä ja kartoittaa nykyisiä ja historiallisia järjestäytymisen malleja kansainvälisesti taidekentällä.
Kirjan ovat editoineet Erik Krikortz, Airi Triisberg ja Minna Henriksson, ja se sisältää kontribuutioita myös taiteilijoilta ja kirjoittajilta Corina L. Apostol (ArtLeaks), Michael Baers, Fokus Grupa, Minna Heikinaho, Vladan Jeremić (ArtLeaks), Elina Juopperi, Jussi Kivi, Barbora Kleinhamplová, Jussi Koitela, Raakel Kuukka, Marge Monko, Zoran Popović, Precarious Workers Brigade, Taaniel Raudsepp, Krisdy Shindler, Tereza Stejskalová, Lotta Tenhunen.
Graafinen suunnittelu: Summer Studio
Julkaistu englanniksi, 2015
Kirjan julkaisua ovat tukeneet Pohjoismainen kulttuuripiste, Oskar Öflunds Stiftelse, Taiteen Edistämiskeskus ja Cultural Endowment of Estonia.
Welcome to the book launch of Art Workers – Material Conditions and Labour Struggles in Contemporary Art Practice at the Helsinki International Artist Programme (HIAP) in the HIAP Project Space (adjacent to the Gallery Augusta in Suomenlinna, Helsinki) on March 21 at 16:00. A short book presentation is followed by a discussion addressing the issues of art and labour from a local perspective with guest speaker Nora Sternfeld, professor for curating and mediating art at the Aalto University.
The questions to be discussed in the event are: What are the material conditions of contemporary art production? Why is exhibition practice based on the unpaid labour of artists? Why do artists pay to make an exhibition instead of getting paid? How to struggle against precarious labour? What are the models of art workers’ organising? How to rethink the agency of artists’ unions and associations?
The book Art Workers – Material Conditions and Labour Struggles in Contemporary Art Practice presents case studies from the local art contexts of Estonia, Finland and Sweden, collects artist-testimonies, discusses activist practices and maps out contemporary and historical forms of organising within the international art field.
The book is edited and co-written by Erik Krikortz, Airi Triisberg and Minna Henriksson, and includes further contributions by Corina L. Apostol(ArtLeaks), Michael Baers, Fokus Grupa, Minna Heikinaho, Vladan Jeremić(ArtLeaks), Elina Juopperi, Jussi Kivi, Barbora Kleinhamplová, Jussi Koitela, Raakel Kuukka, Marge Monko, Zoran Popović, Precarious Workers Brigade, Taaniel Raudsepp, Krisdy Shindler, Tereza Stejskalová, Lotta Tenhunen.
Graphic design by Summer Studio
Published in English, 2015
The book has been published with the financial support of Nordic Culture Point, Oskar Öflunds Stiftelse, Arts Promotion Centre Finland and Cultural Endowment of Estonia.
You can find the book at the Lugemik bookshop in Tallinn: http://www.lugemik.ee/en or order it directly from the publishers.
The book launch of “Art Workers – Material Conditions and Labour Struggles in Contemporary Art Practice” at the Project Space of Gallery Augusta.
More about the book: www.art-workers.org
On February 26th, Artists for Palestine published a response to the open letter Challenging Double Standards (CDS) – A Call Against the Boycott of Israeli Art and Society. The authors accuse the CDS Call of misrepresenting the cultural BDS Movement, but in fact they misrepresent what CDS is and what it is about. To begin with: CDS has not been put together by a group of cultural workers based mainly in Germany. Out of the twenty initial signees only three are based in Germany. Moreover the authors of the response write that we “apparently endorse the idea that a state can be ‘democratic’ while also being defined by ethnicity[…].” But in fact we merely cited Noam Chomsky’s and Norman Finkelstein’s critique: Chomsky and Finkelstein oppose the BDS Movement for its vague definition of “occupied territories” (whether it refers to 1948 or 1967) and accuse BDS of ultimately striving for the destruction of Israel. We find it remarkable how the authors of the response re-emphasize that the idea “that a state can be ‘democratic’ while also being defined by ethnicity” is being “criticised by many Israelis – recently by Shlomo Sand.” Shlomo Sand himself is a historian teaching at Tel Aviv University and therefore he would be one of the victims of the BDS Movement. Further, Sand has not been in favor of cultural and academic boycotts against Israel within the Green Line — just like many other left Israelis. Could there be a more convincing proof of how inconsistent the idea of academic and cultural boycott actually is?
We do not misrepresent the BDS Movement. BDS is not a solely Palestinian, but an international movement mainly based in academic institutions in the global north though still speaking for “the Palestinians” or the Palestinian cause. While it acts on the authority of Palestinian activists it is also criticized within Palestinian society. The Palestinian Administration officially supports a boycott only against products made in West Bank settlements, but not a boycott of Israeli society as a whole and certainly does not support a cultural or an academic boycott.
It is hard to understand why the Artists for Palestine want us to believe that BDS is not directed against an entire state and its citizens. Have they not read their own texts? The authors quote the “Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS” written in 2005, where it says that the boycott shall be implemented until Israel fully complies with the precepts of international law by its ending of “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands” and by “respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194”. Anyone well-acquainted with the conflict knows that the phrase “the occupation of all Arab lands” does not only refer to the occupied territories of 1967.
Our letter intended to draw attention to the very nature of the cultural boycott. We demonstrated how individual artists as well as Jewish organizations have become targets of these boycott measures. We pointed to the fact that the boycott of Israel has to be seen in the wider context of the old and new history of anti-Jewish discourse and the ongoing use of Israel as the symbol of the neo-colonial evil. This bias is exactly why Jews are attacked (and killed) by radical islamists.
Let us be clear: We understand very well that the conflict between Israel and Palestine is not a symmetrical one. We do not overlook Palestinian suffering. We oppose the occupation and the settlements. This is the very reason why we promote dialogue and fight against a cultural boycott. As we have written in our letter: “We do not want to silence criticism; rather, we aim to challenge the dichotomized discursive battlefield. We don’t believe that all of us have to agree on each and every argument – that’s impossible! – but we insist on nuanced dialogue.”
Nikola Radić Lucati
Erratum: Till Gathmann was listed in a previous list of signees.
On 13th February, Artists for Palestine UK launched the Artists’ Pledge for Palestine (http://artistsforpalestine.org.uk), which now has more than 1,000 signatories. In its first week, the website received over 160,000 hits; it seems fair to say that its launch has opened another phase in the debate about the response that cultural workers can make to the struggle of Palestinians against oppression.
Another contribution to these arguments – strongly opposed to ours – has been made by a group of cultural workers based mainly in Germany. Published in ArtLeaks a few days before we launched the Artists’ Pledge for Palestine, it comprises a call against boycott, made under the heading ‘Challenging Double Standards.’ In the interests of debate, we offer a summary of what we take to be the authors’ main propositions, followed by a defence of our own approach and a critique of theirs.
The authors begin with a warning: the situation in Palestine/Israel is ‘complex’. Artists should be wary, therefore, of thinking about it in ‘binary, reductive’ terms, which make ‘dialogue’ between Israelis and Palestinians ‘impossible’. Boycott campaigns, they continue, are definitely an obstacle to dialogue because they ‘simplify’ history, by presenting Israel as a ‘paradigmatic colonial power;’ they ‘single out’ Israel from other states with an equally blemished record and thus fuel a revival of antisemitism.
The boycott movement, moreover, is in their view an ‘outside’ movement that lacks ‘on-site knowledge’ of Israeli society and the situation of Palestinians. Because of this, we are told, it is inclined to see conflicts between Israel and Palestinians in simplified moralistic terms, as ‘part of an eternal non-specific battle’ between ‘good’ and ‘evil’. It wishes to end ‘evil’ by ‘destroying Israel as a Jewish and democratic state’. [We note, in passing and with some surprise, that the authors apparently endorse the idea that a state can be ‘democratic’ while also being defined by ethnicity – an idea criticised by many Israelis, most recently by Shlomo Sand.] In place of these ‘simplifying narratives’, and ‘biased demands’, their Call seeks to promote ‘nuanced dialogue’. It asks ‘spaces of art and cultural production’ to make room for work that ‘deals actively with contradictions’ and rejects ‘demonising’ and ‘simplifying’ narratives.
We don’t find the Call convincing. It is odd that a text which insists on the need to reject generalisation and respect ‘specificity’, is itself so unspecific. There are some quite basic ‘specifics’ that don’t get mentioned at all: occupation, ethnic cleansing, settlements. Others are presented only in the form of euphemisms – the Israeli attacks on Gaza become ‘the Gaza War’. The document accepts without any doubt or questioning a very familiar story: not just that there are two sides, but that these sides are equivalent in the suffering they endure and the violence they inflict. It does not test this assumption against experience, least of all the experience of Palestinians. In fact it demonstrates a shocking lack of interest in what is happening to them, and in the multiple ways in which they have resisted it.
Misrepresenting the boycott movement
Unengaged with Palestinians – their debates, their politics – it is not surprising that the document misrepresents the boycott movement. It sees it as something that has developed outside Palestinian society, among the universities and the cultural spaces of the West – hence the comment about a lack of ‘on-site knowledge.’ In fact the movement exists because Palestinian organisations – like the South African ANC before them – have made a call for it: it is one of the forms of their resistance, for which they have won a global hearing.
Challenging Double Standards doesn’t attempt to understand what the movement is calling for. The BDS campaign is quite specific in its objectives: end the occupation; achieve equality for Palestinians within Israel; abide by United Nations resolutions. Again, such ‘real specificity’ is too much for the writers of the Call. They don’t mention these objectives, still less debate them. They prefer another kind of narrative, depicting the movement, for all its limited objectives, as a force working for the destruction of Israel.
Building on this assumption, the document suggests that boycott campaigns are targeting ‘an entire country and its citizens.’ This is not the truth – as the authors would quickly find if they looked in any detail at an initiative like the Artists’ Pledge for Palestine. Those who have put their names to the pledge have collectively refused ‘professional invitations to Israel, and funding, from any institutions linked to its government.’ No more, no less. Other kinds of invitation, other ways of working, outside the frame of the Israeli government’s cultural policy, are not at issue. In addition to their collective statement, many artists have written statements of their own. We invite the authors of Challenging Double Standards to read these statements (http://artistsforpalestine.org.uk/a-pledge/signatories-statements/). They are as nuanced and multi-voiced as any cultural theorist would want – yet at the same time they come together in protest against a singular injustice.
We don’t think the authors of Challenging Double Standards have been attentive enough to the situation they offer to analyse, or the movement they want to critique. There’s a long and undistinguished history of texts that invoke grand humanist principles as they go about their business of making injustice invisible. The Call belongs in this tradition; its talk is of peace and dialogue. But the other stuff, the enduring intolerable misery, is something it doesn’t want to see.
Artists for Palestine UK
Boycott! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from within (Israeli citizens for BDS)
To The Signees of Current Boycott Initiatives Regarding Israel
We are writing to you about a political issue, which increasingly causes us anxiety: how artists, and individuals affiliated with the arts address conflict in the Middle East. Over the past months topics including the occupation of the West Bank, Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, Palestinian resistance and its struggles, international solidarity and boycott movements, and criticism of Israeli policies, have been taken up in the arts arena with heightened intensity. We are deeply concerned by several aspects of how such issues are approached.
With this letter we are advocating against reductive, binary views of conflict in the Middle East. We believe in the role of art to question and resist dichotomous views. We see dialogue as a critical part of any conceivable peace resolution between Palestine and Israel, and are troubled by the tendency among international boycott movements—particularly cultural boycott movements supported by individuals in the arts—which make dialogue impossible. Such dialogue inside Palestine and Israel is difficult, and is only made more precarious by unilateral international boycott. Underlying these movements, we fear there is an upswing of anti-Semitic attitudes and attacks, which seem to convey varying degrees of intentionality. Neglecting or simplifying significant historical legacies, Israel is treated as a paradigmatic colonial power, and is boycotted in a way that no other country is. Such discrimination and double standards, whether explicitly stated or implied, demand to be addressed.
The Upswing of International Protest
This letter intends to draw attention to the upswing of protest targeting Israel, Israeli institutions, as well as Jewish organizations and individual artists, during the last months and increasingly following the Gaza war. To name just a few examples: the Tricycle Theatre in London refused to host the UK Jewish Film Festival; the organizers of the São Paulo Biennial were requested to return sponsorship funds accepted from the Israeli state; at the Edinburgh Fringe Theatre Festival an Israeli co-production was disrupted by protesters; and the Greek Kakogiannis Foundation was put under pressure for collaborating with the University of Jerusalem. At the same time, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) established a dedicated Arts Coalition. The BDS Arts Coalition (http://bdsartscoalition.org/) was founded prior to the Gaza war in June 2014 and advocates the boycott of Israeli institutions, in line with the BDS principles, which proclaim a comprehensive boycott of Israel on economic, academic and cultural levels. In its initial statement the BDS Arts Coalition requested artists to withdraw from the travelling art exhibition Living as Form (The Nomadic Version), presented at two Israeli institutions, a foundation-run art gallery and artist-in-residence program (Artport Tel Aviv) and the technical University of Haifa (Technion).
All calls and open letters were signed by a large number of individuals and groups affiliated with the arts fields; respected friends and colleagues among them. All these events took place in a climate where the Gaza war alongside its many atrocities provoked numerous anti-Semitic incidents, including physical attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions—none of which was reflected or even mentioned by the groups and contexts appealing for boycott. None of these groups condemned Hamas, an organization with an openly anti-Semitic agenda, which seeks the destruction of Israel. We are worried by this silence, which could either imply that the BDS Arts Coalition and similar initiatives are not equipped to discern anti-Semitic discrimination, or that such discrimination is ignored for tactical reasons. So we decided to share some critical reflections, mostly related to the BDS agenda.
Boycott as a Political Strategy
Boycott is a powerful instrument of political dissent and protest. In civil rights and anti-colonial liberation struggles boycotting has been used in the fight for de-colonization and justice, developed as a strategy to reach out to the world from within the affected country. Without internal perspective, boycotting can seriously harm unintended targets. To avoid collateral damages and judgments based on simplistic conclusions it is essential to have on-site knowledge. In the case of boycotting Israel however, the BDS movement is mainly active in academic and cultural contexts outside the country. It thus often lacks on-site knowledge and aggravates the tense situation, rather than contributing to peace building. On the contrary: rather than opposing “normalization”, as BDS frequently states, its actions indicate a leaning towards maximalist positions.
Boycott is not necessarily an emancipatory act of solidarity with the oppressed and in opposition to the oppressor. The Jewish experience especially in Europe reflects a contrasting effect: anti-Jewish boycotts were once organized against the Jews to exclude them from social, economic, and political life. In these cases, boycott had no anti-colonial implication. Instead, it functioned as a means of oppression by the dominant societies toward Jewish minorities. We are concerned that the language used and political strategies advocated by international boycott movements—among other Left-identified political groups—take the conflict between Israel and Palestine to epitomize neo-colonial evil as such. This view frames the conflict as part of a non-specific eternal battle between good and evil, between “oppressed” and “oppressors.” We ask for a critical approach to dichotomous narratives: Within the tendency to reduce the conflict between Israel and Palestine to that between good and evil, boycott is often romanticized as a political strategy and there is a great danger that the nature of colonial oppression, or of evil, is simplified. Particularly in the case of internationally-staged cultural or academic boycott movements, we fear the tendency to support polarized views. Since its formation in 2005 the BDS movement has been both supported and criticized for framing the conflict in a binary perspective, and for its punitive agenda and actions.
To be clear, we are advocating for a just peace for both conflict parties in Israel and Palestine, and our frustrations arise from this perspective. We insist on the importance of condemning both: injustice against Palestinians and the singling out of Israel as the perpetrator country, discrimination against Palestinians and forms of anti-Zionism fueled by anti-Semitism.
Who to Boycott?
Boycott as a political strategy requires careful consideration and an accurate evaluation of each context in which it is applied. Turning boycott into a doctrine and declaring it on an entire country and its citizens is generalizing and reductive. In the case of Israel, it is problematic and hardly justifiable. No one, for example, would boycott Pussy Riot for being in possession of Russian passports, not even if they were to throw their political agenda out the window. No one would threaten independent institutions, whether critical or silent regarding the policy of the country they are in, except in the case of Israel.
If boycott, divestment, and sanctions are considered as appropriate strategies to contest injustice through international solidarity movements, why are they not applied to the other uncountable countries committing injustices? Why didn’t anybody boycott cultural workers from Serbia and Croatia because of the genocidal war crimes committed by their respective countries? Why not boycott Spain for occupying the Basque country, Great Britain for oppressing Northern-Ireland, India for occupying Kashmir or Angola for occupying Cabinda? Shouldn’t we divest from Germany for waging war on Afghanistan, from Russia for invading Chechnya and Crimea or from Turkey for occupying Kurdistan? Why not lobbying for sanctions against China and Myanmar for suppressing freedom of speech, against Brazil and Canada for denying the First Nations’ rights, and against the US for maintaining and deploying the world’s largest military complex? Is it because “someone” decided that Israel ranks as the most unjust country in the world? And if yes: why is that the case?
Could it be that we feel too comfortable in our privileged lives, our civic rights, or our consumerist culture enabled by some of the above-mentioned states and their institutions—but still want to oppose oppression on ideological grounds? We believe that the collective desire for a “signifier of oppression” is exactly what makes Israel the only target of current international boycott movements.
It is important to not ignore the history of anti-Jewish discourse. Anti-Jewish boycott has often accompanied anti-Semitism as one of its dangerous manifestations. Contacts with Jews have been historically avoided; Jews were not accepted in merchants’ guilds, trade associations, and similar organizations. In many European countries toward the end of the nineteenth century, the anti-Jewish boycott became one of the basic weapons used for victimizing the Jewish population. After the Nazi rise to power in Germany the government publicly announced a general anti-Jewish boycott.
Double Standards and the De-legitimation of Israel as a State
The BDS movement has been criticized by various actors across the political spectrum for applying the double standards we hereby mention. The conflict is emotionally highly charged, especially for most Palestinians and Israelis and for a lot of other Jews, Arabs, and others related to it. It is also understandable that activists are attracted to the subject. But when the emotional and political engagement in this conflict grows out of proportion to the extent that it becomes virtually and publicly a mass phenomenon, it may be time to ask: why Israel?
Again, we believe this is due to the role of Israel as “signifier of oppression” and we argue that this rhetoric simplifies questions related to Israel’s very existence. One of the most discussed issues regarding BDS-politics and its double standards is its denial of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination and its de-legitimization of Israel as a state. This point has been stressed not only by pro-Israel activists, but also by leftist public intellectuals like Noam Chomsky or Norman Finkelstein who can hardly be accused of being Israel apologists. Both criticize the BDS movement’s demand of a one-state-solution and of the right of return for Palestinian refugees, which includes their descendants, and would ultimately lead to the destruction of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. To this effect they criticize the BDS movement for being hypocritical in calling for peace and human rights on the one hand, while fuelling the conflict with demands that would result in the end of the Israeli state on the other.
In our view, BDS’s simplifying narratives, together with its biased demands, foster an atmosphere that enables and even provokes attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions. We are concerned by the under-representation of positions in support of both the Palestinian cause and Israel’s right to exist—and by the tendency to dismiss any questioning of the international Palestinian solidarity movement as right wing pro-Israeli propaganda. We propose to think about this carefully.
The purpose of this letter is not to silence criticism; rather, we aim to challenge the dichotomized discursive battlefield. We don’t believe that all of us have to agree on each and every argument—that’s impossible!—but we insist on nuanced dialogue. Taking boycott as a doctrine rather than a case-specific political strategy makes such dialogue impossible. If we believe in the ability of art to tackle complex situations and political questions in a progressive manner, the task of art lies in insisting on specificity and subjectivity rather than simplifying context; insisting on reflection rather than reflex. We ask spaces of art and cultural production to deal actively with contradictions rather than ignoring them, and to question political propaganda rather than being subsumed by it.
Therefore, we call on all individuals affiliated to the arts that come across demonizing attempts such as the BDS, to be critical and express this by contesting the underlying simplification. We ask you to seriously consider what triggers ongoing debates about the right of Israel to exist, what consequences the BDS-led support of the Palestinian struggle entails for both peoples as well as the peace process, and what binary frames and narratives are being used. We believe that both nations have the right to their states within the land known alternately as historic Palestine and historic Judea, and that both should strive for peace and just solutions together through mutual dialogue and neighborly cooperation. However, the guiding principles of that dialogue should be determined by the people that will actually be living together, side by side in peace with their neighbors. We call all friends and colleagues who signed the BDS Arts Coalition letter and similar resolutions to look into the history and presence of the BDS movement, to analyze its aims and strategies, to take into account these criticisms and to reconsider whether you want to support such a position.
This letter reflects the collective efforts of—and ongoing discussion among—individuals involved in the spheres of arts and culture in varying capacities; we consider ourselves as part of the left and have varying relationships to Israel and Palestine. As a collective we have benefited from and been challenged by the variety of opinions, perspectives, and experiences of the individuals among us. We hope that this letter models an alternative approach to the dismissive and problematic positions we criticize.
Please forward this letter widely.
Nikola Radić Lucati
You can sign the call or contact us here.
References about cultural boycott groups, actions, and critical responses to boycott movements can be consulted here.