Exploring the politics and curatorial vision amidst the documenta fifteen controversy
by Daria KravchukJul 26, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by STIRworldPublished on : Jun 11, 2022
After the recent vandalism of the Mona Lisa painting at the Louvre in Paris, one would have expected the art world coming to a halt, but episodes of vandalism as an act of protest continue to make headlines. On a related note, vandals targeted the exhibition area of a Palestinian artist group participating at documenta fifteen in what is being described as a politically motivated attack. The incident is being investigated in light of a growing antisemitic controversy surrounding Kassel's quinquennial exhibition, which opens on June 18 (until 25 September). The Alliance Against Anti-Semitism Kassel has condemned the exhibition for involving “anti-Israeli activists” and violating Germany's strict anti-semitism laws due to the pro-Palestine stance of artists from the participating group, The Question of Funding, and the Palestine-based organisation Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center.
On May 27, a gallery in Kassel, Germany, was vandalised while organising an installation by the Palestinian collective, The Question of Funding, as part of the wider documenta fifteen event. The assault on the space comes as ruangrupa faces unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism over its inclusion of artists and collectives who signed an open letter arguing that the German Parliament's 2019 BDS Resolution, which labels the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israel as anti-Semitic, “is a threat to artistic freedom and freedom of speech,” along with several Jewish signatories.
Fire extinguishers were used to damage the internal walls of WH22, and phrases such as '187' and 'Peralta' were spray-painted on them. Organisers think the first sentence relates to a provision of the California penal code dealing with murder, while the second refers to far-right Spanish lawmaker Isabel Peralta, who has previously supported violence against Muslims.
The Indonesian curatorial collective ruangrupa, which is in charge of the quinquennial this year, published a statement declaring, “We consider the vandalist acts as a politically motivated threat . . . as an attack on all of us.” The organisers further expressed a wish “for a working atmosphere where acts of violence towards the artists’ persons, venues, and artworks cannot be tolerated.”
According to a statement made by documenta, the Kassel exhibition space of Question of Funding was broken into and vandalised on May 27-28, with graffiti that has been interpreted as Islamophobic and having “cryptic death threats”.
ruangrupa attempted to have a series of dialogues to address the claims before documenta's June 18 premiere, but these were cancelled when many participants pulled out. At that juncture, the organisers decided they would let the exhibition speak for itself.
An open letter released following the cancellation stated: “To be clear: no antisemitic statements of any kind have been made in the context of documenta fifteen. We strongly reject these accusations and refuse to accept bad-faith attempts to delegitimise artists and preventively censor them based on their ethnic heritage and presumed political positions.”
This isn't the first time documenta's organisers have been involved in a racially tinged incident. In April, some stickers bearing the slogan “Freedom not Islam!” were distributed. “Barbarism will not be tolerated!”, “Solidarity with Israel!” and “Fight Islam Consistently!” were mounted to the façade of RuruHaus, a temporary exhibition space managed by ruangrupa in a former department store.
The Hesse State Police are currently investigating damage to the property at Werner-Hilpert-Straße 22, which it puts at “several thousand euros,” according to Berliner Zeitung. documenta has filed a criminal complaint over this week's vandalism events. “Political motivation cannot be ruled out,” authorities said. Last year, 20 Hesse police personnel were examined for possible ties to the extreme right.
In light of these instances, documenta says its exhibition workers will get extra training, and security manpower at show venues will be expanded. Nonetheless, several art industry figures who were planning to attend the event have expressed their alarm over the assaults.
(Text by Vatsala Sethi, Asst. Editorial Coordinator (Arts))
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