'Stolen Arab Art': Israeli Gallery Shows Artists' Works Against Their Will

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Curator Omer Krieger at the 1:1 Center for Arts and Politics
Curator Omer Krieger at the 1:1 Center for Arts and PoliticsCredit: Moti Milrod

A new exhibition named "Stolen Arab Art" featuring works by Arab artists who refused to show in Israel opened Thursday in a Tel Aviv art gallery, prompting criticism by those saying it is unethical to display works without artists' consent.

The south Tel Aviv art gallery, 1:1 Center for Arts and Politics, is displaying four pieces of video art by four different Arab artists who do not cooperate with Israel for political and ideological reasons. The works are presented without the artists' knowledge or consent and without attributing credit to the artists – their names do not appear in the advertising for the exhibition or in the gallery space itself.

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Gallery curator Omer Krieger sees this as a political and artistic statement. "This exhibition is an art project, a type of performance," he said.

"It asks questions about what can be done through art and through art institutions, and how you can work with the law, with reality, with political conventions, with campaigns like BDS and with the Israeli government. It's a type of public art."

Krieger says the idea for the exhibition was born out of attempts to hold an exhibit with the artists' consent, but the artists either ignored him or refused. "When we opened this center, we planned an exhibition with a young artist from Gaza whom I've been in touch with for several years. But in the last moment, out of fear for his life, he decided not to go through with it," Krieger says.

"I understood that there was a need for a paradigmatic shift, that people just live in fear," he added.

The exhibition has stirred significant controversy in the local art world, with online art magazine "Tohu" calling "not to collaborate with this despicable event and its organizers."

Artist and actress Raida Adon contacted some of the artists whose works she believes are included in the exhibition. One told her this "act is so evil it's funny." Another wrote: "What's the point of being a thief and taking pride in it? This won't change a thing, all these artists, including myself, refuse to show our work in Israel, and they just reinforced our reasoning."

According to Adon, this is a moral failure. "I say this as an artist, not only as an Arab woman. It is immoral to not ask for the artist's consent. It's as if someone were to take my video art and place it in a Jewish settlement [in the West Bank] without my knowing or my name. If just some idiot accuses the artists of giving their permission in secret, it's enough to destroy their careers. Israelis always take everything so lightly, but things aren't always so light and easy."

Krieger isn't surprised by the criticism, but says not all feedback was negative: "A major Palestinian artist I love gave me a lot of complements and said she was moved by this project."

According to Krieger, he takes very seriously the possibility that this exhibition would harm the artists or put them at risk. "It's the only real concern we had and we consulted lawyers, local and international, to understand the risk. The title of the exhibition makes it clear that there's no consent here, that it's stolen, that it's an Israeli act of aggression, which is also why we don't advertise the artists' names."

Several dozen people attended the opening, and a screaming match ensued. Adi Engelman, director of the art gallery, said she "craves connection, and we need acts of peace also when there is no peace. Art has power and a role, and I learn a lot from these pieces. These pieces of art are in the world, they're exhibited in biennales and large galleries. In this exhibition, we are reaching out but the artists aren't extending their hand back to us. We know it's a unilateral act."

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