London, 30 August 2017
Dear Gillian Merron,
What are we to make of the UK’s main Jewish organisation calling for the Barbican to remove a video artwork from a science-fiction themed exhibition?
Apparently you had not seen ‘In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain’, the video installation by Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour and Danish author Søren Lind, when you chose to write to the Barbican to demand its removal.
So may we fill you in on its style and content? ‘In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain’ was filmed entirely in a studio using computer-generated, other-worldly imagery that mixes the past with the future. The piece obliquely questions national mythologies, and its Arabic-speaking protagonist uses archaeology to stake claims on the past and thereby on the future of a vanishing land. Like much art, its narrative is ambiguous, open-ended, more akin to poetry than any kind of polemic. Why would the Board of Deputies want to protect British Jews from a video that uses science-fiction to explore the relationship of history, myth and national identity?
You’ve said in your letter to the Barbican, ‘The film is a means by which to deny the historical Jewish connection to Israel… Accusing Jews of falsifying our connection to Israel smacks of antisemitism’.
Just this week Israel’s Haaretz newspaper ran the headline: Fake History: Netanyahu Boasts about ‘Ancient Jerusalem Coin’ – Turns Out to be Kid’s Souvenir. The Prime Minister had claimed the coin was ‘evidence of the deep connection between the people of Israel… to the communities in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]’. Is this story, which suggests that archaeology is being used by politicians to justify the dispossession of Palestinian communities in the West Bank, also antisemitic?
In the past two weeks, Charlottesville has shown us what a live and threatening issue antisemitism is. It has shocked everyone to see a large crowd of racists with flaming torches screaming against Jews. In this context, what does calling for the withdrawal of a work of fiction by a Palestinian artist, which you actually haven’t seen, tell us about the priorities of the Board of Deputies?
And, as practising artists and writers, we’d like to know how many other galleries, theatres, universities or community spaces have received similar demands from the Board regarding narratives which the Board alone interprets as unacceptable challenges to Israel’s founding mythologies.
Artists for Palestine UK
Trailer for the video which the BoD wanted the Barbican exclude from the exhibition: