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Palestinian artists targeted in Germany ahead of major art event – Al Jazeera English



Berlin, Germany – Just a few weeks before the opening of documenta 15, one of the world’s most prestigious art events, Palestinian artist Yazan Khalili received a WhatsApp message telling him there had been a break-in at his exhibition space.

He arrived at the room in a former nightclub in Kassel, central Germany, to find the intruders had let off a fire extinguisher and spray-painted what appeared to be death threats on the walls.

The perpetrators remain unknown, but the vandalism marked an alarming escalation in a controversy that has been rumbling in German media for months, after an obscure blog in January accused artists and organisers of documenta, in particular Khalili and his The Question of Funding collective, of anti-Semitism.

This year’s documenta – which runs from June 18 to September 25, 2022 – is curated by Indonesian art collective Ruangrupa, which has broken with tradition by using a collaborative format and inviting a wider range of participants from the Global South than previous editions of the quinquennial exhibition.

But the debate surrounding the event has raised questions about whether Germany’s approach to combating anti-Semitism discriminates against Palestinians and supporters of Palestinian rights, and limits artistic freedom.

“There was so much emotion and fear,” Khalili told Al Jazeera. ”This has been building since January – lots of hostile, aggressive media campaigns … against me and other Palestinian artists, or artists who showed support for Palestine.”

Documenta organisers interpreted the “187” sprayed on the walls as a reference to murder in California’s penal code, and “Peralta” to Spanish neo-Nazi Isabel Peralta, who has links to the extreme right in Germany.

The incident on the night of May 28 has led to concerns for the safety of artists in Kassel, which is about a two-hour drive from Hanau, where a right-wing extremist murdered nine people in a racist killing spree in 2020

“There is a line that has been crossed. Before all these defamations and aggressions were digital. Now they have become physical,” said artist Yasmine el-Sabbagh, whose work involving an audio-visual archive of life in the Palestinian refugee camp Burj al-Shamali will feature in documenta. She was named in the blog post in January.

In response to the targeting of Khalili’s exhibition space, documenta said it had filed a criminal complaint with police and would step up security at the event.

“We are united against the racist attacks that started this sequence of events,” Ruangrupa said in a statement published on Friday.

“We also express our dismay and disappointment at the amplification that the original baseless blog post of disinformation and manipulated content received in some of the mainstream media. We denounce the media participation in these smear campaigns,” it added.

Exhibition space vandalized and with writings on the walls
The Kassel Alliance against Anti-Semitism denied any connection with the vandalism, which it suggests was committed by local youths and was not political [Courtesy of documenta]

Germany’s support for Israel is a cornerstone of its post-war political identity and was named a raison d’etat by former Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In 2019, the German parliament declared the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which advocates an economic and cultural boycott of Israel over its occupation of Palestine, to be explicitly “anti-Semitic”. In the years since, supporters of BDS have been stripped of awards, disinvited from events, and publicly denounced as anti-Semites.

Germany is home to Europe’s largest population of Palestinians, but many find the political climate is becoming increasingly hostile towards them.

“You are suspected of not sharing the German memory culture, the consensus on Holocaust memory,” said Palestinian-German academic Sami Khatib. “And of course you’re scrutinised for that.”

In May, Berlin police prohibited all Palestinian rallies on the weekend of the anniversary of the Nakba – the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 – on the grounds that there was a high risk of anti-Semitic behaviour, which organisers denied. This included a vigil organised by a Jewish group for Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by Israeli security forces in May.

“From a German perspective Palestinians are problematic; their very existence is problematic,” said Khatib. “This is not all of Germany, but this is what you get from major journals, certain politicians, and also certain NGOs who are engaged in a civil society fight against anti-Semitism. And today, this fight is mostly against Palestinians.”

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The recent targeting of Palestinian artists at documenta began when the news blog Ruhrbarone published an anonymously authored post sourced from the Kassel Alliance against Anti-Semitism, a group that identifies as part of the “anti-German” scene.

The anti-Germans are a left-wing sect that identify closely with the State of Israel and are staunchly Islamophobic.

The blog post accused several figures involved in documenta of anti-Semitism for their support of BDS or signing of petitions critical of Israel. It focused particularly on Khalili and The Question of Funding, and their connection to the Khalil al-Sakakini Cultural Centre in Ramallah. The author painted al-Sakakini, an Arab nationalist intellectual born in the 1870s, as a Nazi sympathiser – an account rebutted by historian Jens Hansen.

The accusations were picked up and repeated by major German-language newspapers from across the political spectrum, including left-wing Die Tageszeitung, liberal Die Zeit and conservative Die Welt – none of which initially contacted Khalili, he said.

Though several newspaper contributions and statements from public figures, including the head of the Anne Frank Educational Centre, have dismissed the claims of anti-Semitism made by the blog post, the issue has continued to resurface, even dragging in Germany’s culture minister Claudia Roth.

In April, stickers were posted on Ruangrupa’s headquarters, which read “Freedom instead of Islam! No compromises with barbarism!” and “Solidarity with Israel”.

Ruangrupa pushed back against what it called “bad-faith” attacks in a public statement, saying that the “alliance” was in fact one person, whose allegations were totally false. Ruangrupa has organised a series of online talks to discuss the “role of art and artistic freedom in the face of rising anti-Semitism, racism, and Islamophobia”, which featured artists Eyal Weizman and Hito Steyerl. After the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany wrote to Roth to criticise the composition of the panels, Ruangrupa scrapped the series and said it would allow the event to speak for itself.

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“It’s so obvious that it’s a smear campaign from the very beginning, that all these accusations are not based on anything. They are incendiary,” said el-Sabbagh, adding that many news outlets failed to scrutinise the blog’s racist language.

“It’s really shocking to see that mainstream media doesn’t reflect critically on this. Many of them just pick this up to put more oil on fire.”

In a statement published on Friday, the Kassel Alliance against Anti-Semitism denied any connection with the vandalism, which it suggests was committed by local youths and was not political, but referred to the Hamburg hip-hop group 187 Strassenbande and unknown Filipino rapper RJ Peralto, who has no obvious connection to Germany.

The group did not claim responsibility for the stickers, but said they were a legitimate form of solidarity with Israel. “We make no secret of the fact that we are critical of Islam,” it added.

The graffiti would initially appear to be of far-right origin, possibly done by someone associated with this Kassel antisemitism alliance group [Al Jazeera] 
Documenta said it had filed a criminal complaint with police and would step up security at the event [Courtesy of documenta]

Without a lobby to defend them, Palestinians make an easy target for German media outlets who wish to associate them with anti-Semitism, said Khatib.

“It’s kind of a public performance of moral goodness, of being self-righteous.”

Khalili initially offered interviews to the German press to defend himself, but found the tone of questioning from journalists to be frequently hostile or presumptive of his guilt. One asked him whether the curators made a mistake in inviting his collective – “a humiliating question”, he said.

Though he had exhibited several times before in Germany without a problem, he now found himself spending countless hours grappling with a crisis into which the collective had been thrown. The art community in Kassel has been incredibly supportive, he said, but the ordeal has been exhausting.

Members of the collective have had to rethink the exhibition, which will examine alternative economic structures to the institutional model of funding art in Palestine, to ensure that individuals and communities in Palestine who are involved will be protected.

“I think I was too innocent thinking that we can come and express our work,” Khalili said.

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Home + Away artwork opens in Vancouver’s Hastings Park



A new art installation now towers over Vancouver’s Hastings Park fields in celebration of the city’s history of spectators and sports.

Home + Away is a sculpture by Seattle artists Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo of Lead Pencil Studio, which opened Monday in the southeast end of the historic park.

It’s a 17-metre-tall structure that resembles a narrow set of bleachers — similar to the stands of the Empire Stadium, which stood on the site of the park from 1954 to 1993 and hosted The Beatles, among many others. It recalls a covered ski jump that stood there in the 1950s and the nearby wooden rollercoaster at the PNE.

The city says the public is invited to walk the stairs and sit on the benches.

“In addition to being visually striking, this artwork is intended to be ascended, sat on and experienced. It offers exciting experiences of height and views and provides 16 rows of seating for up to 49 people, making for a unique spectator experience when watching events at Empire Fields,” the city said in a release Monday.

The idea for the park to include public art was outlined in the Hastings Park “Master Plan,” first adopted by the city in 2010. The city says Han and Mihalyo first presented their design in 2015.

“It’s wonderful to see this piece realized within the context of such a well-used public space,” said Han.

Home + Away was inspired directly by the site history of spectatorship, and we hope it will connect Hastings Park users to that history and the majestic views of the environment for many decades to come,” added Mihalyo.

The artwork features a large light-up sign, in the style of a sports scoreboard, that reads “HOME” and “AWAY.”



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Bill Viola, Video Artist Who Established the Medium as an Integral Part of Contemporary Art, Dies at 73



Bill Viola, whose decades-long engagement with video proved vital in establishing the medium as an integral part of contemporary art, died on July 12 at his home in Long Beach, California. He was at 73 years old. The cause was complications related to Alzheimer’s disease. The news of his passing was confirmed by James Cohan Gallery.

Viola’s works are centered around the idea of human consciousness and such fundamental experiences as birth, death, and spirituality. He delved into mystical traditions from Zen Buddhism to Islamic Sufism, as well as Western devotional art from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in his videos, which often juxtaposed themes of life and death, light and dark, noise and silence. These explorations were achieved by submerging viewers in both image and sound with cutting-edge technologies for their time.

“I first used the camera and lens as a surrogate eye, to bring things closer, or to magnify them, to experiment with perception, to extend vision and make lengthy observations of simple objects,” Viola said in a 2015 interview. “Once you do that, their essence becomes visible. So I suppose I was always interested in the inner life of the world around me.”

Beginning in the 1970s, Viola created videotapes, architectural video installations, sound environments, electronic music performances, flat panel video pieces, and works for television broadcast—all of which expanded the scope of the medium and established Viola as one of its most notable practitioner.

Video still of a man diving into water that has been reversed. The image is mostly black and teal.

In 2003 the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; Tate, London; and the Centre Pompidou in Paris jointly acquired Bill Viola’s 2001 three-channel video installation Five Angels for the Millennium.

Photo Kira Perov/©Bill Viola Studio

Bill Viola was born in 1951. He grew up in Queens and Westbury, New York, and attended P.S. 20 in Flushing, before receiving his BFA in experimental studios from Syracuse University in 1973. There, he studied with visual art with the likes of Jack Nelson and electronic music with Franklin Morris.

Following his graduation, between 1973 to 1980, Viola studied and performed with composer David Tudor in the music group Rainforest, which later became known as Composers Inside Electronics. He also worked as technical director at the pioneering video studio Art/tapes/22 in Florence, Italy from 1974 to 1976. During that time he encountered the work of other seminal video artists like Nam June Paik, Bruce Nauman, and Vito Acconci.

Viola was subsequently an artist-in-residence at New York’s WNET Thirteen Television Laboratory between 1976 to 1983, wherein he created a series of works that premiered on television. He traveled to the Solomon Islands, Java, and Indonesia to record traditional performing arts between 1976 and 1977. Later that year, Viola was invited to show work at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, by cultural arts director Kira Perov, with whom he married and began a lifelong collaboration.

He was appointed an instructor in advanced video at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California in 1983. He was the Getty Research Institute scholar-in-residence in Los Angeles in 1998 and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000.

In 1985, Viola received with a Guggenheim Fellowship for fine arts, and later that decade, in 1989, he was awarded the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship. His work was also featured in some of the world’s most notable exhibitions, including Documenta VI in 1977, Documenta XI in 1992, the 1987 and 1993 editions of the Whitney Biennial, and the 2001 Venice Biennale.

In 1995, he represented the United States at the 46th edition of the Venice Biennale. For the pavilion, Viola produced the series of works “Buried Secrets,” including one of his most known works The Greeting, which offers a contemporary interpretation of Pontormo’s oil painting The Visitation (ca.1528–30). The Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin and New York’s Guggenheim Museum commissioned the digital fresco cycle in high-definition video, titled Going Forth By Day, in 2002.

Viola’s work was the subject of a major 25-year survey at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1997, which subsequently toured internationally. His work has been the subject of major museum retrospectives in the years since, including at the Grand Palais in Paris (in 2014), the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence (2017), the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain (2017), and the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia (2019), as well as an exhibition pairing his work with that of Michelangelo at the Royal Academy of Art in London in 2019.

Viola is survived by his wife Kira Perov, who has been the executive director of his studio since 1978, and their two children.

“One thing that’s very exciting about video that has turned me on since I first saw this glowing image way back in 1970 is that it can be so much,” Viola said in a 1995 with Charlie Rose on the occasion of this US Pavilion at the Biennale. “Furthermore, what’s really exciting is I don’t think it’s been since really the Renaissance where artists have been able to use a medium that one could say is the dominant communication form in society.”


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Couple’s winning art projects adorn overpass



Annabelle Harvey and Corbin Elliot are partners: in life, love, and art. Thanks to their creative pursuits, now they are also joined in the recognition of their work along the Lakeshore overpass.

The City of North Bay, in collaboration with the Public Art Advisory Committee (PAAC), recently held an event to acknowledge the successful applicants for the Lakeshore Drive overpass banner project. This initiative features 14 artworks created by local artists, highlighting the ongoing commitment to bringing public art to the community and celebrating local talent. The banners were installed early last week.

On behalf of PAAC, Katie Bevan noted that 71 submissions were received for the banner art project. “Selecting just 14 artworks from such outstanding submissions was no small feat. It truly highlights the incredible creativity within our community — and it’s only growing.”

Bevan acknowledged all who submitted their work and congratulated the 14 winners:

  • Caitlin Daniel
  • Corbin Elliot
  • Adam Fielder
  • Ian Gauthier
  • Ruby Grant
  • Annabelle Harvey
  • Penny Heather
  • Robert Johannsen
  • Robyn Jones
  • Gerry McComb
  • Victoria Primeau
  • Tessa Shank
  • Rana Thomas
  • Claudia Torres

“This is the first time I’ve participated in something city-wide, and I’ve been really interested in getting more involved in the art community,” said Harvey, a teacher by vocation when not helping to beautify North Bay. “I’ve worked a lot with the WKP Kennedy Gallery and I’ve been putting in submissions for some of their group shows. So, this is a cool opportunity to try something new. This is the first time I have done digital work. Usually, I like painting and collage. So I was interested just to try something new.”

In September 2023, public art gained more prominence in North Bay as 12 pieces by eight local artists selected by the Public Art Advisory Committee were placed on aluminum panels mounted onto the public buildings in both Champlain and Sunset parks.

Harvey’s partner Elliot is an emerging artist and a Fine Arts graduate from Nipissing University who says his passion for bringing his vision to life has only grown, thanks, in part, to these public art initiatives.

“There is so much opportunity to have a lot of different public art in different spaces,” he says. “So, when I saw that there was a variety of different artists and voices being accepted, of course, I wanted to have my vision out there in the city, to make my mark and be a part of that kind of trajectory of building the art scene within the city.”

The couple share a studio space, often working on separate projects at the same time while collaborating with encouragement and ideas.

“We are working on different mediums, a lot of the time,” Elliot said. “We have our own corners set up in the studio and I’ll usually be on my easel and Annabelle will be doing something…”

Harvey picked up his thought, “I’m usually at my desk doing pottery, jewellery, collage — I do a lot of different things.”

Couple Annabelle Harvey and Corbin Elliot each earned a spot among the 14 winning banner art projects. Stu Campaigne/BayToday

For Harvey, working so closely together is her “favourite part, especially watching his creative process.”

Elliot added, “I think I’m more non-verbal as I’m creating. I often hear you saying, ‘Oh, I think I like this.'”

Both have active Instagram pages featuring their artwork, Harvey’s can be found here, and Elliot’s here.

Elliot has a show at the WKP Kennedy Gallery, entitled “Upon a Star,” opening Sept. 13. “I’ll have my own solo exhibition. I typically work in painting. I have a big body of work with paintings,” he said.

The City of North Bay and PAAC encourage everyone to take a moment to appreciate these works of art when passing by the overpass.

Harvey and Elliot are thrilled about the banner art project.

“It’s like seeing your vision come to life. We’ve had lots of friends, even before we saw them today say excitedly, ‘I saw your work on the overpass,’ it’s just a proud moment to have so many eyes on our work.”



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