'Swastika' Created Using Pictures of Ben-Gurion Causes Legal Uproar

Culture and Sports Ministry demands removal of artist Ashraf Fuahri’s painting from his exhibition at Cabri Gallery in Galilee and threatens to cut gallery’s funding.

An artwork by artist Ashraf Fuahri, which appears to be a swastika created by connecting images of David Ben-Gurion’s body, will most likely be removed from his upcoming exhibition “I am a Haaretz subscriber” at a Jewish-Arab cooperative gallery in the Galilee.

Following a report on Army Radio last Wednesday, the Culture and Sports Ministry has asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and the Finance Ministry’s legal adviser to examine if the “swastika” is justification for ending the ministry’s financial support for the Cabri Gallery, east of Nahariya.

In the picture, an image of Ben-Gurion standing on his head is repeated four times, connected at his head, giving the impression of a swastika – or possibly a weather vane.

Drora Dekel, the exhibition’s curator, decided at the last moment not to hang the work, as a result of the furore surrounding it. The exhibition is set to open this Saturday.

However, the work does appear on the exhibition’s invitation, which Fuahri himself designed. “I told Ashraf the work is too much and I cannot back it,” said Dekel, “since people see a swastika, even though he had no such intention. Even Ashraf was shocked by the response.”

Fuahri, who was born in 1974 in Mazra’a, northern Israel, is no stranger to controversy. In 2002, an exhibition of his at Haifa Museum prompted a violent demonstration by right-wing protestors against it.

Dekel has been involved with Fuarhi’s career since his student days. As with previous exhibitions, in the present one he deals with the complex Israeli-Arab situation, she said. Fuarhi uses humor, irony and esthetic temptation “to teach us a chapter in the existence of the other – the Arab, the one who does not give up on his opinions and art within the joint space of existence,” Dekel added.

In his work for “I am a Haaretz subscriber,” for example, Fuarhi presents a donkey carrying on its body an advertising sticker for Haaretz. In “Herzl’s Balcony,” the donkey and the founder of the modern Zionist movement become a hybrid creature. In the pair of works “Nakba” and “Naksa,” Fuarhi presents ribbons from the 1948 and 1967 wars, with donkeys standing on them as a monument testifying to joy and victory.

The Culture and Sports Ministry said it supports over 800 cultural institutions a year, including the Cabri Gallery, based on fixed criteria set by law, and after the institutions have met the necessary conditions. The ministry supports only institutions, and not specific artists or exhibitions.

“The Culture and Sports Ministry is not a partner in the artistic management of the bodies it supports and is not involved in the content of the artistic activities presented by them, also in cases where [the ministry] does not agree with them,” it said in a statement. “Nonetheless, in light of the nature of the content presented in the aforementioned exhibition, the ministry’s legal adviser has asked the attorney general and Finance Ministry’s legal adviser to examine whether the exhibition violates the criminal code, which provides justification for canceling support for the gallery.”

Ashraf Fuahri
Ashraf Fuahri
Ashraf Fuahri