Scientists recognize “immediate need for action”
A panel of experts examined the documenta for other anti-Semitic images. The first part of the report already reveals the massive omissions – and calls for consequences. The Ruangrupa artist collective responsible continues to see itself as the victim of a campaign.
ZIn July, the shareholders of the art festival set up a specialist committee to assess the Documenta and research whether other anti-Semitic motifs would be exhibited in Kassel. The public had to wait a long time for the result. Now the scientists have come to the conclusion that “there is an immediate need for action” with regard to a work.
This is a work that has been the subject of criticism since it opened in mid-June. The screening of “Tokyo Reels Film Festival” by the Subversive Film collective, which compiled bits and pieces of pro-Palestinian propaganda films from the 1960s to 1980s, should be “stopped,” according to the press release published on the Documenta website. The main problem with the work is the comments made by the artists themselves, “in which they legitimized hatred of Israel and the glorification of terrorism”. The historical material is not “critically reflected, but affirmed as a supposedly objective factual report”.
Consequence of the curatorial concept
From the point of view of the committee, this one-sidedness in depicting the Middle East conflict is not to be attributed to the individual artists, but “the consequence of a curatorial concept of the artistic direction, which consciously renounced control over the compilation and presentation of the exhibition”. The Indonesian curatorial collective Ruangrupa is responsible for the fact that 15 anti-Semitic works were exhibited at Documenta and that Israel and Israelis appear “exclusively” as perpetrators and aggressors.
Ruangrupa and dozens of participating artists and activist collectives from the “lumbung community” – lumbung stands for the Indonesian rice barn where surplus goods are distributed to the community – responded with an open letter published on September 11 on the online art portal “e-flux ” has been published. They not only reject the assessment of the panel, but also raise serious allegations.
“We are angry, we are sad, we are tired, we are united” is the title of the letter. With the report of the scientific advisory board “a new frontier was crossed” that marks a “racist tendency” and “malicious structure of censorship”. Signers of the letter criticize the report, which is chaired by political scientist Nicole Deitelhoff, as lacking in scientific evidence, argumentation and integrity. The head of the Frankfurt Leibniz Institute for Peace and Conflict Research is supported, among others, by the Berlin constitutional lawyer and legal philosopher Christoph Möllers, the sociologist and anti-Semitism researcher Julia Bernstein and the cultural historian and expert on censorship Peter Jelavich.
Your fight goes on
The document curators and artists continue to complain that one is outraged and exhausted, but their “fight” will continue. One feels prejudiced because the committee refers to the definition of anti-Semitism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance – whose global work against falsification of the Shoah is also supported by Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock – and reduces artistic practice to “propaganda”. But it is “a flimsy argument that criticism of the State of Israel is incitement to hatred of an entire people.” The “simplistic, depressing, pseudo-scientific approach” of the advisory board should be rejected as “deliberate political maneuver”. Even more one sees the “transfer of German guilt and history to the Palestinian struggle and other anti-colonial struggles”.
The “lumbung community” reacted to the result of the committee with activist language, but not with a scientific argument that they had missed: “Our solidarity continues, while your superiority, arrogance and power games end.” They want to continue “together, affirmatively and poetically ’ and refuse to be subjected to the ‘aggressive, unexamined and deliberately humiliating form of criticism and assessment’ by the Supervisory Board and other Documenta ‘shareholders’.
Documenta fails because of mediation
The inability to deal with criticism is not only shown by those responsible for the arts. The panel comes to the conclusion that the organization of the documenta “does not appear to be set up to mediate in the event of internal or public criticism of the project or the artistic direction”. This increases the pressure on the documenta considerably two weeks before its scheduled end.
The letter from the artists and curators is addressed, among others, to the Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Documenta, the Lord Mayor of Kassel, Christian Geselle, and to Claudia Roth, Minister of State for Culture. They now urgently need to make a decision as to how and whether this Documenta 15 and the institution itself can continue. The resignation of general director Sabine Schormann in June was obviously not enough to save the event.