Censorship or sanctions? Traveling art exhibit faces BDS

Censorship or sanctions? Traveling art exhibit faces BDS

Show meant to encourage dialogue and community engagement draws opposite reaction with Technion stop

Francis Alÿs: When Faith Moves Mountains, 2002.  (Courtesy Francis Alÿs and David Zwirner, New York)
Francis Alÿs: When Faith Moves Mountains, 2002. (Courtesy Francis Alÿs and David Zwirner, New York)

NEW YORK — A traveling art exhibition emphasizing “participation, dialogue and community engagement” is facing antipathy from the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement while stopping in Israel.

Touring via hard drive, Living as Form (The Nomadic Version) is composed of nearly fifty socially engaged art projects and is augmented by additional pieces chosen by the host institution, all created within the last 20 years.

The exhibit is co-organized by Creative Time, a New York-based nonprofit that commissions and presents public art, and Independent Curators International (ICI), and organization that produces traveling exhibits, events and publications around the world. Creative Time’s chief curator Nato Thompson coordinated the exhibit in collaboration with 25 curators from around the world.

However, instead of generating peaceful dialogue and community engagement, a new group calling itself the BDS Arts Coalition is writing to participating artists and asking them to withdraw their pieces from the tour as it is currently based at the Technion Institute in Haifa.

The letter states, “We ask you, as artists whose imaginative and committed work we deeply respect, to stand in solidarity with Palestinians resisting the continued colonization of their land… cultural organizations must halt their partnerships with institutions that contribute to or normalize the Israeli military-industrial complex.”

The letter describes the Technion as “a crucial research center for the development of technologies used by the Israeli Defense Forces against Palestinians in regular and widespread acts of surveillance, land theft, unwarranted eviction, restriction on movement, and violent repression.”

It describes both the exhibit at the Technion as well as a previous tour stop at Artport Tel Aviv as “in violation of the BDS call.” Included in the signatories is Adalah-NY: the New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership, controversial Berkeley academic Judith Butler, and Israeli art historian Ariella Azoulay.

Phil Collins: they shoot horses, 2004.  Image still from video (Courtesy Shady Land Productions, Ramallah)
Phil Collins: they shoot horses, 2004. Image still from video (Courtesy Shady Land Productions, Ramallah)

Instead of disengaging with Israel’s hot art scene, Creative Time and the ICI are resisting BDS calls. As art blog Hyperallergic reports, Creative Time director Anne Pasternack issued a statement in 2012 in which she wrote that the nonprofit would “respect and work to protect the right of anyone to participate in the BDS campaign.” (This was in response to previous opposition from some participants over Creative Time’s partnership with the Israeli Center for Digital Arts for its 2012 Summit in Manhattan.)

In response to the recent uproar, curator Thompson posted a message on Facebook in which he writes, “the commitment to the free exchange of ideas has always been central to Creative Time’s mission, and thus we do not participate in cultural boycotts… We believe the activist practices as demonstrated in the Living as Form show can contribute to society by raising awareness, help correct injustices done around the globe, honor international standards of human rights, and lead to a more just world.”

In its letter to participants, the ICI noted that it “does not take part in the boycott of Israel under BDS or other frameworks,” though it supports others’ rights and respects others’ positions.

Other previous stops on the Living As Form tour have included Moscow, Western Sahara, and Indiana. It is set to travel to Fargo, North Dakota for its next and last stop. No word on any anti-North Dakota boycotts planned as of yet.

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