A coalition of arts and cultural workers staged a sit-in at London’s Tate Modern on Sunday, November 26, to call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza. Dozens of demonstrators gathered in the museum’s Turbine Hall around 3pm to show their solidarity with the Palestinian community and to pressure the institution to join the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement. The action came during the second half of a temporary ceasefire between the Israeli military and Hamas fighters that allowed for several exchanges of Israeli hostages and Palestinians held in Israeli prisons over the weekend.
Featuring poetry readings, statements, collective chants, and musical performances, the demonstration was both a protest of Israel’s occupation of Palestine and a vigil for the estimated 14,800 Palestinians who have been killed in the Gaza Strip by Israel’s bombardment since Hamas killed around 1,200 Israelis on October 7. The demonstrators displayed Palestinian flags and banners from the museum’s second level to draw attention to the ongoing destruction of Palestinian cultural organizations in Gaza and the West Bank, which organizers referred to as “a means of control, a means of depriving people of self-knowledge, identity, and history.” The organizers further called out the silencing of cultural workers who have vocalized pro-Palestine views.
“Public spaces should be free of intimidation, harassment, and professional persecution for political views in support of Palestinian life and liberation,” the organizers said in a statement, adding that “artists and arts workers do not exist in a void and refuse to be complicit in the position of the UK government.”
Israel’s attacks on Palestine have internally displaced more than one million people, including artists Maisara Baroud, Sohail Salem, and Basel El-Maquousi, whom organizers said were all forced to evacuate their homes alongside their families in search of refuge.
“We assemble to mourn the lost lives of Palestinian artists, the destruction of cultural organisations in Gaza, the bombing of schools and places of education,” the organizers said in a statement. “We assemble in vigil to assert that cultural destruction and silencing are tools of genocide.”
Participants in the action called on Tate Modern and other organizations to join the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), a movement that advocates for a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions. They also called out the museum’s ties to Ukrainian-born, British-American billionaire Len Blavatnik, who pledged at least £50 million (~$65 million) to the museum in 2011 — the institution’s largest donation in history — to fund a major extension. While the businessman has previously faced scrutiny for his connections to the Kremlin, activists are now decrying his financial support of the Israeli military. Friends of Israel Defense Forces is currently listed as one of the charities that have received support from the Blavatnik Family Foundation alongside other Israeli groups, including the Birthright Israel Foundation, which has been criticized in recent years by Jewish activists for the program’s erasure of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians living under occupation.
London-based visual artist Adham Faramawy told Hyperallergic that they attended the peaceful sit-in with their Jewish friends and colleagues to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian community and to recognize artists Mohammed Sami Qariqa, Halima Al-Kahlout, and Heba Zagout, who were killed by Israeli shelling and airstrikes in October. While no arrests were reported by the organizers, Faramawy did say that they saw several demonstrators being escorted by police officers in yellow vests upon exiting the museum after the demonstration.
“I joined this action as a cultural worker to state my solidarity, but I would like art institutions in the United Kingdom to be more vocal in support of human rights and in calling for a cease fire. It’s the bare minimum we can do,” Faramawy said.
The Tate Modern has not yet responded to Hyperallergic‘s request for comment.