Four artists withdrew their works from the exhibition “Barbarians,” which opened Sunday night at the Mamuta Art Research Center in Jerusalem, after Culture Minister Miri Regev demanded that a poem by Palestinian writer Dareen Tatour be removed.
Tatour’s poem “Resist, My People” was meant to be shown as part of a digital platform created by artist Meira Asher. As part of Asher’s work, other artists set the poem to music and called on others to do the same.
When Regev asked Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to withdraw funding from the gallery if Tatour’s poem was exhibited, the exhibition curators removed the work. The organizers say they are awaiting legal clarification as to whether exhibiting the poem constitutes a crime in Israel.
In June 2018, Tatour was sentenced to five months in prison by the Nazareth District court for incitement to violence and supporting terrorist organizations, based on her social media posts. She was released from prison in September.
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“Barbarians” arose after the authorities targeted Barbour Gallery in Jerusalem, among other artistic institutions. At the heart of the exhibition is a “censorship archive” – a collection of dozens of censored works sourced from artists who responded to an open call.
According to the curators, the archive shows how censorship functions by presenting a collection of cases that test the power of various censors – institutional, religious, political and self-censorship – creating a unique overview of time and place. The curators have explained that all the works in the exhibition are ones that were “taken down, muzzled, restricted, slashed, covered or rejected the moment they sought to see the light of day,” at the bidding of “institutional, family, religious, political or self-censorship.”
The archive will be in a locked room and visitors will have to sign a document stating that they are about to see sensitive content, the curators explained.
Gal Volinez withdrew his work “Hamsa” consisting of three “hands of god”, one bearing the words “Slaughter the Jews,” which had been displayed at Sapir College. Volinez explained in a Facebook post that instead of presenting “dangerous” art, as promised, the exhibition ended up as a collection of dull pop-art.
He says that instead of tackling the burning issues of the day, the exhibition provokes nothing more than a yawn and idle chatter. Instead of the promised censored works, he said, the organizers exercised censorship, and so he told them to remove his piece.
Laila Betterman, Anael Resnick, Guy Elhanan and Lee Lorian wrote to the curators saying that they would withdraw their works as well if the curators acceded to pressure to lock the “censorship archive.” They said that withdrawing the poem was a clear capitulation to censorship pressure. Though they said they understood the survival of the gallery and its financial suffocation were at stake, in their view the gallery acted out of panic and, in its response to the right-wing intimidation, failed to notice that these the precise methods used by censors.
Another artist, Hee-Lee Soffer, has withdrawn her illustration from the book “The Cat.” She said that the event had taken a political turn and become a debate about terror, adding: “I want no part of it.”
The exhibit organizers, a collective of Jerusalem artists called Sala-Manca, decided to publicly present the censorship affair within the exhibition. Instead of Meira Asher’s project, they will display a portfolio including a description of the pressures imposed on the organizers, the letter from the artists withdrawing from the affair, and Tatour’s poem as part of a display on her sentencing, with Tatour’s consent. All in all, the exhibit will include 35 works.
The Sala-Manca group said that the events surrounding the “censorship archive” emphasize just how important the issue is. The group said, "At this time when public discourse is shallow, violent and self-censoring, debate on the matter is vital. We found ourselves becoming a test case of the very subject we were attempting to bring to light."