Vandals Attack a Kassel Arts Venue Where a Palestinian Group Is Set to Show During Documenta

The incident occurred amid a raging debate over alleged antisemitism.

The vandalized WH22 exhibition in Kassel, Germany. Courtesy of documenta.

The site where a Palestinian artist collective is set to exhibit next month as part of Documenta 15 has been vandalized with hate speech, according to the organizers of the quinquennial event.

The vandalism occurred on the night of May 27, when someone broke into a Kassel venue called WH22, where the collective, The Question of Funding, had created an ad-hoc art gallery.

Among the phrases scribbled onto walls were “187” and “PERALTA.”

Organizers believe “187” alludes to the California penal code section for murder, making the graffiti a death threat. “PERALTA” likely refers to Isabel Medina Peralta, the leader of the Spanish far-right youth group Bastion Frontal who has previously faced charges for inciting violence against Muslims.

In 2021, when she was 18, Peralta made headlines by accepting a 10-month scholarship to “complete her training” with the Dusseldorf-based neo-Nazi group Der III Weg. 

Courtesy of documenta.

Courtesy of Documenta.

Documenta’s administrators have filed a criminal complaint with local authorities. Security for the city-wide exhibition, which opens June 18, will also be increased.

Ruangrupa, the Indonesia collective that curated this year’s exhibition, called the vandalism a “politically motivated threat” and “an attack on all of us.”

“We are wishing for a working atmosphere where acts of violence towards the artists’ persons, venues, and artworks cannot be tolerated,” the group said in a statement. “We are counting on the solidarity and friendships that we have built together, including within the city’s ecosystem over the past years, to make this intention attainable.”

“Having discussions about Documenta 15 is one thing, but intimidating artists by committing crimes goes far beyond the pale and damages the image of the city of Kassel as a place of artistic freedom,” added Kassel Lord Mayor Christian Geselle.

He said his office is working with Documenta and local authorities to do “everything necessary to ensure the safety of the participants and guests.”

Courtesy of documenta.

Courtesy of Documenta.

The May 27 attack is not the first of its kind to take place in Kassel this year leading up to Documenta. In April, multiple anti-Muslim stickers were found outside another exhibition venue boasting slogans like “Freedom Not Islam!”

In January, a group called the Alliance Against Anti-Semitism Kassel issued a press release accusing Documenta’s curators and several participating artists of anti-semitism for their alleged connections to the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.

Despite factual inaccuracies in the document, the claims were picked up by multiple media outlets, particularly in Germany.

The show’s organizers vehemently denied the allegations, saying in a statement that the accusations included false “representations and racist defamations” that hindered “critical dialogue and productive debate.” The group also announced at the time that it would arrange a three-week lecture series on the topic. 

Courtesy of documenta.

Courtesy of Documenta.

However, just days before the first discussion was set to take place in early May, the lecture series was scrapped altogether.

The justification, Ruangrupa’s members explained, was to “let [the exhibition] speak for itself.”

Later that same week, the collective issued an open letter alleging that the Alliance Against Anti-Semitism Kassel consisted of a “single person who has links to an extremist splinter group.”

“To be clear: no antisemitic statements of any kind have been made in the context of Documenta 15,” Ruangrupa said in the statement. “We 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.” 

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