Oscar Murillo, Tai Shani, and Other Artists Are Pulling Their Work From a Manchester Museum to Protest Its Director’s Ouster

The former director faced backlash after staging a show that supported Palestine.

The Whitworth Gallery in Manchester. Photo: Martin Rickett - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images.

More than two dozen international artists are threatening to withdraw their work from a Manchester museum show after it forced out its director over his decision to display work with a pro-Palestinian message.

Alistair Hudson, the director of the Whitworth Art Gallery at the University of Manchester since 2017, was reportedly asked to resign for his part in mounting “Cloud Studies,” a 2021 presentation of recent research by the art collective Forensic Architecture which identified possible human rights violations tied to poor air quality in Beirut, Louisiana, and Palestine. 

Defending its decision, the university cited complaints from the U.K. Lawyers For Israel, a volunteer organization that took issue with a statement in the show expressing solidarity with Palestine. “Forensic Architecture stands with Palestine,” the statement began. “While working on this exhibition we witnessed with horror yet another attack by Israel’s occupation forces on Palestinians.”

Alistair Hudson has been asked to step down as director of the Manchester Art Gallery. Photo by Simon Webb, courtesy of the Manchester Art Gallery.

Alistair Hudson has been asked to step down as director of the Manchester Art Gallery. Photo by Simon Webb, courtesy of the Manchester Art Gallery.

Now, 24 artists and one collective set to be included in an upcoming exhibition at the Whitworth have issued a public letter to the University of Manchester’s president and vice-chancellor denouncing the school’s actions.

“The unfolding of events in response to the statement of solidarity with the Palestinian liberation struggle exhibited by Forensic Architecture during their exhibition ‘Cloud Studies’ at the Whitworth in 2021 is a direct attack on political freedom and artistic expression,” the missive read. “We believe there is neither space for such actions nor possible engagement with the university and its platforms, especially when public expression is limited, and evidence for human rights violations is obscured.” 

“Truth needs to be made public, and cultural spaces have to remain open for difficult discussions.”

The artists who signed the letter, including former Turner prize winners Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo, and Tai Shani, are among the 48 participating in British Art Show 9 (BAS 9), a survey of “new directions in contemporary art” from artists throughout the U.K. The show, organized every five years by Hayward Gallery in London, is scheduled to stop in Aberdeen, Plymouth, and Wolverhampton in addition to Manchester.  

The letter’s signatories have said they will pull their work from the Manchester show “unless meaningful reparative measures are taken.

“BAS 9 exhibition is structured around the curatorial framework of healing, care and reparative history; tactics of togetherness and imagining new futures, which is at odds with recent events,” they wrote. “Our deep commitment to these themes under fear of censorship makes it impossible to continue our engagement with the University of Manchester given the current position of the institution.”

Representatives from the Whitworth Art Gallery did not immediately respond to a request for comment or additional information about Hudson’s status at the museum. 

Addressing accusations that the school “has in some way suppressed academic and artistic freedoms, or bowed to external pressures,” a spokesperson for the University of Manchester told the Guardian, “we refute such claims entirely. Museums and galleries have traditionally been a space of experimentation and challenge and we hope that the Whitworth is a place where we can debate, discuss, and disagree well.”

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