Have Pro-Palestine Artworks Been Censored in Your State?

A new online map launched this week by the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) tracks the suppression of pro-Palestine voices in the United States arts and culture sectors in a powerful visualization of an alarming trend.

The Art Censorship Index: Post-October 7th documents incidents involving visual, performing, and literary artists who have faced professional consequences for “invoking Israel or Palestine.” In one case, a musician said his concert in Arizona was canceled because of his public support of Israel. But the majority of the 22 instances logged by the NCAC so far (the map will be updated regularly) demonstrate a clear pattern: the silencing of individuals who vocally advocate for Palestinians’ right to self-determination, criticize Israel’s war on Gaza, or question Zionist ideology.

The Art Censorship Index conveys the severity of the phenomenon by classifying the increasingly chilling reasons artists or artworks are targeted — sometimes because of their ethnicity or social media activity. In January, renowned 87-year-old Palestinian painter Samia Halaby saw her first retrospective in the US abruptly canceled by Indiana University, presumably on the basis of her online activism in support of her people.

“The map shows where we are seeing conversations being shut down based on ideas in the artwork, ideas of the artist, or a regional or cultural affiliation that is extrapolated from the shows,” explained Elizabeth Larison, director of the NCAC’s Arts and Culture Advocacy Program, in an interview with Hyperallergic.

In October, for instance, the Frick Pittsburgh postponed a historical exhibition of Islamic art, citing a “scheduling conflict,” and New York’s El Museo del Barrio removed a Day of the Dead altar from programming over its inclusion of a single Palestinian flag.

“Then it’s Samia Halaby’s personal opinion on social media, and later on, at the Center for Book Arts, there’s an artwork that in and of itself does not allude to this recent iteration of the conflict but might remind audience members of it,” Larison continued. “So you see this creep — first you see it in the work, then in the artist, and then we start looking for any signal that the work will reference this conflict or offend somebody.”

Users can click through the map to explore incidents around the country, each presented with a brief summary and links to reports from news outlets including Hyperallergic. Zooming in on New York City, for example, brings up six red dots for locations including UrbanGlass in Brooklyn, whose board voted to remove a neon artwork with the phrase “from the river to the sea,” and Hunter College, which canceled a screening of Israelism (2023), a documentary film that follows Jewish Americans reexamining their relationship to Israel.

The tendency is far from limited to the cultural sector. Human Rights Watch, for instance, warned of “systemic online censorship” after Meta took down over a thousand posts by Palestinians and their supporters, including content referencing human rights abuses, between October and November 2023 alone.

The Art Censorship Index excludes works deliberately removed by their author or instances in which “curatorial frameworks precluded an artwork from being selected in the first place.” Censorship, Larison explained, involves a work that has been selected and then is retracted out of fear of how people will perceive it. It is not always a First Amendment violation or even illegal, but it represents a violation of “the spirit of freedom of expression.”

“This is exactly the threat of censorship and particularly artistic censorship during times of political upheaval or geopolitical conflicts — the removal of works prevents society from being able to engage in conversations,” Larison noted. Organizations operating outside the mainstream and independent entities that do not rely exclusively on private funding are providing an important platform for dialogue in the art world.

“Institutions have a right to only have certain programming, but we advocate for them to adopt a statement to artistic freedom — which is to say that they support the work of artists and won’t discriminate based on a specific viewpoint,” Larison said. “We try to remind curators, institutions, and artists that work can be debated, contextualized, or critiqued.”

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top