The vast majority of artists participating at a prestigious event in Sao Paulo have signed a petition calling on organizers to return sponsorship money it received from the State of Israel.
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Fifty-five of the 68 artists from all over the world, partaking in the 31st Bienal de Sao Paulo, signed the letter in protest of Israel's Gaza offensive. The logo of the Israeli consulate in Sao Paolo, as one of the exhibition sponsors, is featured on the biennial's website and appears in the exhibition's central pavilion.
A preview of the exhibition is scheduled for Monday, while the biennial opens to the public on Saturday. Signatories include Israeli artist Yael Bartana. Fellow Israeli participants Yohai Avrahami, Leigh Orpaz and Nurit Sharett did not sign the protest letter.
The artists claim that because Israel is one of the exhibition funders, their work is being exploited to clean its postwar conscience.
"At a time in which the people of Gaza return to the rubble of their homes, destroyed by the Israeli military, we do not feel it is acceptable to receive Israeli cultural sponsorship," the letter reads.
"In accepting this funding, our artistic work displayed in the exhibition is undermined and implicitly used for whitewashing Israel’s ongoing aggressions and violation of international law and human rights. We reject Israel’s attempt to normalize itself within the context of a major international cultural event in Brazil."
The declaration followed a meeting between the protesting artists and Luis Terepins, president of the Bienal de Sao Paulo foundation, in late August. The artists say Terepins told them organizers would consider rejecting Israel's sponsorship. They issued the letter when they got the impression that the board was not going to accede to their request.
In the wake of the letter, the exhibition's Israeli curators – Galit Eila and Oren Sagiv – as well as its other curators, issued a statement supporting the protesting artists. Sagiv stressed that he did not support the letter but rather the artists' right to protest.
The curators argued in their letter that "it is clear that the sources of cultural funding have an increasingly dramatic impact on the supposedly ‘independent’ curatorial and artistic narrative of an event. The funding, whether state, corporate or private, fundamentally shapes the way the public receives the work of artists and curators."
The letter concluded: ”While this is a wider issue than the 31st Bienal de São Paulo, we ask that the Foundation revise their current rules of sponsorship and ensure that artists and curators agree to any support that is forthcoming for their work and that may have an impact on its content and reception."