Museum Watchdog Group Decries Silencing of Pro-Palestine Voices

The International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art (CIMAM) is calling out the silencing of arts community members who have spoken publicly in support of Palestine as Israel’s attacks on Gaza continue.

“Since Israel’s war on the Palestinian inhabitants of Gaza in response to the horrific 7 October attack by Hamas and the taking of Israeli hostages, we are witnessing unprecedented international censorship of artists and curators who have expressed their political views and support for the Palestinian people,” CIMAM said in a statement on Monday, January 15.

Founded in 1962 and based in Barcelona, CIMAM is a nonprofit affiliated with the International Council of Museums (ICOM), a worldwide collective of more than 35,000 museum workers and institutions. The organization’s Museum Watch advocacy program was created in 2012 to provide support to museums in critical situations, especially those facing economic hardship or caught amid political crises.

CIMAM specifically points to recent cases in Canada, Germany, and the United States, scrutinizing the measures taken by museums to curb the voices of arts and cultural workers who have condemned Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military has killed over 23,000 Palestinians since at least 846 Israeli civilians were killed in Hamas’s assault in October.

The organization cites the Museum Folkwang’s abrupt cancellation of an Afrofuturist installation shortly before the exhibition’s opening on account of the curator’s social media posts supporting Palestine, in addition to the Saarland Museum’s rescission of an exhibition on South African artist Candice Breitz’s work that was originally slated to open at the Modern Gallery this year. Notably, hundreds of artists and cultural workers signed onto an anonymously authored petition last week committing to boycott German cultural institutions in response to the country’s crackdown on Palestine solidarity actions.

The statement further references the recent cancellation of 87-year-old Palestinian abstract painter Samia Halaby’s first solo exhibition at Indiana University’s Eskenazi Museum of Art, allegedly due to “safety concerns.” As of today, January 17, more than 13,600 people have signed onto a petition calling on the university’s president to repeal the museum’s decision.

CIMAM also applauded the museums and cultural institutions that have made efforts to protect free speech, referencing the Kunsthalle Basel’s support of its new director Mohamed Almusibli, who faced a wave of backlash over his appointment in November after a local paper publicized Almusibli’s two open letters in support of Palestine.

Responding to the recent CIMAM publication, Faisal Saleh, who heads Woodbridge, Connecticut’s Palestine Museum US, told Hyperallergic that he felt the statement “does not go far enough” in terms of holding institutions accountable for stifling free speech. In the past several months, the Palestine Museum US has joined other arts organizations and institutions in solidarity with Palestine, participating in a global strike decrying Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and even launching a loan program to expand the visibility of Palestinian artwork. 

“I would like to see a call for a boycott of offending institutions,” Saleh said, noting that the Eskenazi Museum of Art pulled Halaby’s show with “total impunity.”

“Nothing happens to them. They just did it and walked away from it,” Saleh continued. “I would like to see some consequences.”

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