When Artists Boycott
Art in America, December 2014
Excerpt: ‘…[T]he [BDS] movement has only lately staked out a presence in the art world. This may be due to the previous focus of BDS activists on garnering endorsements from musicians, actors and other higher profile cultural figures. On a deeper level, however, the art world may have lagged behind their pop-culture counterparts because of a persistent attitude among visual artists that their work is edifying, progressive and autonomous—that the symbolic politics of art trumps the political implications of how it is funded and circulated.
‘TODAY THAT BELIEF in contemporary art’s inherently subversive power appears to be eroding, as cultural producers grapple with the geopolitical and corporate mechanisms governing global art events, whether in Australia, Russia, South Korea, the UAE or the U.S. Significantly, this wave of struggle is a reaction not just to flagrant instances of censorship, like those witnessed at this year’s Gwangju Biennale or the 2011 Sharjah Biennial, but also to perceptions that corporations (like BP, a major sponsor of London’s Tate museum) and governments (like the monarchies of the UAE which uphold the indentured servitude of a migrant workforce) are attempting to put a cultured gloss over their unscrupulous practices.
‘The growing influence of BDS in the art world can be considered part of this broader political awakening. But it also reflects factors unique to a situation in which the devastation of Palestinian homes and land has become a horrifying routine. The cultural boycott of Israel effectively asserts that Israel’s arts institutions—unless their directors reject government funding and explicitly support the BDS movement’s demands—cannot be separated from state policies that have contributed to an unsustainable condition in which ethnic exclusion is the norm….’
Artful dodging; Tel Aviv art world discusses BDS
By Kobi Snitz
BRICUP newsletter, February 2015
Excerpt: ‘…The public meeting was the culmination of the work of the curators’ group and was held in Tel Aviv on January 8th 2015. In preparation for the event, one of its organizers, Chen Tamir, wrote a detailed review of cultural boycotts within the contemporary art world in general and as applied to Israel. Partly because of setting this context, the organizers were able to prevent the discussion from being diverted into complaints of antisemitism and Israeli victim-hood and focus instead on the actual implementation of the boycott through several detailed case studies. As was reiterated at the meeting, by now the effects of the boycott are strongly felt by all Israeli artists and curators who have professional contact with the outside world. (‘The quiet boycott: When Israeli Art is Out‘; Haaretz Jan 8th 2015.)
What has been felt just as strongly has been the near impossibility of continuing cooperation with Palestinian artists. As is the case with the rest of Israeli society, the art community shows little appreciation of the problem with normalization. In fact some artists and curators were actually arguing for normalization. The Palestinian view of normalization and what it means for Palestinian artists does not seem to have been relevant to the discussion, let alone any question of cooperation under terms which would not constitute normalization.
I spoke at the conference mostly about normalization because of how little it is understood in Israel and how readily understood it is in Palestinian society. The point I tried to make was that, as soon as we realize that rather than a ‘conflict’ between Israelis and Palestinians the situation is one of the oppression of Palestinians by Israelis, the opposition to normalization is automatically understood.
A second major concern for Israeli artists and curators is what has been called ‘the internal boycott’. As one of the speakers mentioned, as the Jan 8 meeting was taking place in Tel Aviv, not far away, a performance by an Israeli dancer was threatened by fascist hooligans who were upset because the performance included elements from videos of Israeli abuses in the Occupied Territories (from B’Tselem). Another event involving the same artists was physically broken up about two months earlier.
[…] The effect of […] McCarthyism was apparent at the Jan 8 event itself when practically every speaker had to preface their talk with a disclaimer that they do not represent their employers and still they were careful to not say anything that sounds like support for the boycott.
It seems that the social, political, and professional penalties for supporting the boycott have deterred most potential Israeli supporters in the art world as it has in academia. Although the artists and curators do not generally support BDS, at the very least their raising of the level of the discussion makes it harder to demonize the movement. If there is to be a meaningful political shift in Israeli society, such initiatives are a necessary first stage in it.’
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) unveils the first images of its newly digitised archive of images and film, covering all aspects of the lives and history of Palestine refugees from 1948 to the present day.
For forty years George Nehmeh worked as an UNRWA photographer. In this short film he revisits scenes that were in front of his camera and inspects the digitization done in Gaza.