Indonesian curatorial collective ruangrupa, who organized the recently opened Documenta 15, and Sabine Schormann, the quinquennial’s director, separately issued statements apologizing for the inclusion at the exhibition of a work containing anti-Semitic imagery. People’s Justice, a mural by Indonesian collective Tarang Padi, created in 2002 in response to the violent military dictatorship of Suharto in their home country, was first covered over and then removed after it was discovered to feature two exaggerated and unkind depictions of Jews. One was a clearly labeled Mossad agent with the head of a pig (Mossad is Israel’s secret service); the second, which drew the most ire, was a caricature of an Orthodox Jewish man wearing a black derby hat bearing the insignia of the Nazi Schutzstaffel.
“The truth of the matter is that we collectively failed to spot the figure in the work, which is a character that evokes classical stereotypes of antisemitism,” wrote the curators in their June 23 statement. “We acknowledge that this was our error.”
Schorrman in her statement asserted, “Clearly antisemitic depictions will be uninstalled, and in the case of controversial positions, an appropriate debate will be conducted.” Promising to oversee an investigation of the entire Documenta, which spans thirty-two venues and 105,000 square feet, to ensure there are no other works that might be characterized thus on display, she additionally noted, “We also reserve the right to un-invite individual artists.” Meron Mendel, director of Frankfurt’s Anne Frank educational center, will conduct the investigation, and will additionally chair a June 29 panel on anti-Semitism and racism.
The curators, who themselves for months endured and stoutly denied accusations of anti-Semitism owing to their inclusion of a few artists who publicly condemned Germany’s 2019 anti-BDS resolution as a “threat to artistic freedom and freedom of speech,” pleaded for viewers not to look away from their edition of Documenta, much of it focused on the frequently ignored Global South and vowed to be more watchful.
“We want to use this moment to say that we hope that all of our works have not been in vain, just like the work of our supporters and collaborators is not in vain,” they wrote. “We take this opportunity to educate ourselves further about the atrocious history and present of antisemitism and are shocked that this figure made it into the work in question.”