Documenta Artists Condemn “Racist Attacks” Following Vandalism

More than 130 artists and collectives participating in Documenta 15 have released a statement in support of the event’s curators, the Indonesian collective ruangrupa, who have been beset by unfounded allegations of anti-Semitism. The accusations, initially leveled anonymously in January by an obscure local anti-Semitism group and then disseminated, factual inaccuracies intact, by German daily Die Zeit, culminated last week in the May 28 vandalism of a Kassel art space housing work by Palestinian collective The Question of Funding. The space, WH22, sustained damage to its interior walls, on which were spray-painted the terms “Peralta” and “187.” The former word is the last name of Spanish anti-Islam right-wing politician Isabel Peralta, and the latter is thought to refer to the California penal code section on murder.

The artists interpreted the graffitied terms as “a death threat” in their statement, published in e-flux, casting the vandalism as “a very worrying escalation of the situation.” The allegations of anti-Semitism stem from ruangrupa’s inclusion in the quinquennial of artists and collectives who signed an open letter denouncing the German Parliament’s 2019 BDS Resolution as a “threat to artistic freedom and freedom of speech.” A number of Jewish signatories also condemned the measure, which labels as anti-Semitic the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. 

Prior to the vandalism of WH22, and following the repetition in the media of the accusations of anti-Semitism, the well-established Central Council of Jews in Germany publicly reiterated the allegations against ruangrupa and pressed Claudia Roth, Germany’s state minister for culture and media, on the matter. ruangrupa attempted to stage a series of conversations ahead of Documenta’s June 18 launch to address the allegations, but canceled them after a number of participants dropped out. At that juncture, the curators decided they would let the exhibition speak for itself. In an open letter issued by ruangrupa explaining the cancellation of the discussions, the collective noted that the Alliance Against Antisemitism Kassel, which spawned the original rumor, consisted of a “single person who has links to an extremist splinter group.” Ruangrupa went on to “strongly reject these accusations and refuse to accept bad-faith attempts to delegitimize artists and preventively censor them on the basis of their ethnic heritage and presumed political positions.”

The Documenta artists were equally blunt in their own letter. “We are united against the racist attacks that started this sequence of events. And we stand firmly against all forms of discrimination, including racist, xenophobic, antisemitic, sexist, transphobic, anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian, anti-Roma, ableist, casteist, classist, and ageist actions and attacks.”

Documenta 15 opens June 18 in Kassel across various venues.


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