A Turner Award-nominated study group has said it is pulling an exhibition of its work at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester after a declaration of solidarity with Palestine was removed from the display.
Part of the exhibition deals with violence used by Israeli forces against Palestinians and was accused of being “ardent and inherently one-sided” by British lawyers for Israel (UKLFI), who advocate for Israeli causes.
Forensic Architecture, a team of architects, archaeologists and journalists whose digital models of crime scenes have been cited as evidence by the International Criminal Court, demanded the closure of its exhibition “with immediate effect” after learning about the removal.
The removal of the statement followed a campaign by UKLFI. A letter sent on 28 July by UKLFI to the University of Manchester, which controls the Whitworth Gallery, suggested that the exhibition could, through its “inflammatory language and representations, [of Jewish people]“Violates the university’s duty of equality in the public sector. It claimed that the comparison of the Palestinian and black liberation struggles “seems designed to provoke racial disagreement”.
The intervention led to a meeting between representatives of the university, the gallery, UKLFI and Jewish community groups in Manchester, where the decision was made to remove the declaration.
Emails seen by the Guardian suggest that Forensic Architecture director Eyal Weizman, a British-Israeli professor at Goldsmiths, was told the statement was removed from a blog post by UKLFI. “As our work appears to have been compromised despite our strong objections, we demand that our exhibition close with immediate effect,” Weizman told the gallery.
The show, Cloud Studies, has been open since July 2, looking at how pollution, chemical attacks and the aftermath of explosions affect marginalized people. It examined the use of tear gas and white phosphorus in Palestine, chemical warfare in Syria, the use of tear gas against protesters in Chile, the effects of deliberately started forest fires in Papua and highlighted major new work on environmental racism in Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley”.
A note entitled “Forensic Architecture stands with Palestine” was affixed to the entrance to the exhibition. It said: “We believe that this liberation struggle is inseparable from other global struggles against racism, white supremacy, anti – Semitism and colonial colonial violence, and we recognize its particularly close entanglement with the black liberation struggle around the world.”
Weizman told the Guardian: “I am amazed that the University of Manchester forced the removal of our ‘solidarity with Palestine’ declaration, which is part of our exhibition.
“The declaration refers to well-documented realities in Palestine, which have been endorsed by major human rights groups. That the University of Manchester did so after pressure from a self-proclaimed lobby group known for platforming the far-right settler movement in Israel disregards well-accepted principles of academic and artistic freedom and is a violation of human rights principles in Palestine and elsewhere, such as the FA’s exhibition promotes. ”
Weizman referred to an episode two years ago when an event hosted by UKLFI in London with a representative of the right-wing organization Regavim was blocked by British Jews who were opposed to the Israeli occupation. At the time, UKLFI director Caroline Turner said Regavim “was certainly not a fighter for hatred” as it acted “against Jewish as well as Arab perpetrators”.
UKLFI disputed the characterization of its intervention as a lobbying company. It “expressed reasonable concerns,” the organization told The Guardian. Jonathan Turner, CEO of UKLFI, said: “In our view, the University took a responsible decision that allowed the continued display of what went for artistic elements in the Forensic Architecture exhibition, although these were also misleading, but removed the introduction, which was pure propaganda. Forensic Architecture’s decision to pull the entire exhibit suggests they are more interested in propaganda than art. ”
The University of Manchester has previously been involved in controversies over censorship of expressions of solidarity with Palestine. In 2017, the university censored the title of a Holocaust survivor’s speech about Israel after Israeli diplomats said its billing – “You do to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to me” – constituted anti-Semitic hate speech.
In a statement from the University of Manchester, Alistair Hudson, director of the Whitworth Gallery, said it was important for the exhibition to remain on display but that it was “paused” on Sunday.
However, he added: “We acknowledge the concerns that this statement should be included in the exhibition space, and take it seriously, including how it can be received by visitors to the gallery and its potential impact on some communities in the city, community context and promotion. good relationships. ”