Artists Call on Bienal de São Paulo to Reject Israeli Funds

The majority of the show's participants signed an open letter.

The artists installing The Incidental Insurgents at the ICA London Photo: ‏@delfinafdn Twitter

Whatever the fate of the current uneasy ceasefire in Gaza, one thing seems clear: the horrifying civilian casualties inflicted by the IDF during Operation Protective Edge are turbo-charging the international movement for a boycott of Israel, modeled after the movement that helped put pressure on South African apartheid in the 1980s. Now, just days before its opening, the 31st Bienal de São Paulo in Brazil has unexpectedly become the latest front in the movement.

Ruanne Abou-Rahme, one half of a Ramallah-based artist duo whose critically lauded project, The Incidental Insurgents, is set to be seen in the show, has sent artnet News an open letter to the Sao Paulo Biennial Foundation, signed by some 55 of the participants—a majority of the close to 70 artists and collectives featured. The statement calls on the organization to return funds it has received from the Israeli government, saying that in light of recent events, accepting the money amounts to making artists complicit in “whitewashing Israel’s ongoing aggressions and violation of international law and human rights.”

The logo of the Israeli consulate is featured on the biennial’s website, alongside other international partners, including the City of Amsterdam and the Danish Arts Foundation. A representative of the consulate told Folha de S.Paulo that the funding was on account of three Israeli artists featured in the show.

Israel’s actions during Operation Protective Edge provoked particularly strong reaction in Brazil, whose government recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv in July, stating, “We strongly condemn the disproportionate use of force by Israel in the Gaza Strip, from which large numbers of civilian casualties, including women and children, resulted.” This in turn provoked an Israeli spokesman to call Brazil a “diplomatic dwarf.”

The 31st Bienal de São Paulo is titled “How to (…) things that don’t exist,” and is curated by the team of Charles Esche, Galit Eilat, Nuria Enguita Mayo, Pablo Lafuente, and Oren Sagiv. It is billed as focusing “on contemporary conditions and how art projects can engage with and activate histories, individuals and communities today.” It opens September 6.

The complete open letter from the artists is below:

Open letter to the Fundacão Bienal Sao Paulo,

We, the undersigned artists participating in the 31st Bienal have been suddenly confronted, just as the show is about to open, with the fact that the Fundação Bienal de São Paulo has accepted money from the Israeli state and that the Israeli Consulate logo appears in the Bienal pavilion and on its publications and website.

At a time in which the people of Gaza return to the rubble of their homes, destroyed by the Israeli military we do not feel it is acceptable to receive Israeli cultural sponsorship. In accepting this funding our artistic work displayed in the exhibition is undermined and implicitly used for whitewashing Israel’s ongoing aggressions and violation of international law and human rights. We reject Israel’s attempt to normalise itself within the context of a major international cultural event in Brazil.

With this statement, we appeal to the Fundação Bienal to refuse this funding and to take action on this matter before the opening of the exhibition.

1.        Agnieszka Piksa

2.        Alejandra Riera

3.        Ana Lira

4.        Andreas Maria Fohr

5.        Asier Mendizabal

6.        Chto Delat collective: Dmitry Vilensky, Tsaplya Olga Egrova, Nikolay Oleynikov

7.        Danica Dakic

8.        Débora Maria da Silva and Movimento Mães de Maio

9.        Erick Beltran

10.      Etcetera… / Federico Zukerfeld/Loreto Garin Guzman

11.       Farid Rakun

12.       Francisco Casas y Pedro Lemebel (Yeguas del Apocalipsis)

13.       Gabriel Mascaro

14.       Graziela Kusch

15.       Grupo Contrafilé

16.       Gulsun Karamustafa

17.       Halil Altindere

18.       Heidi Abderhalden

19.       Imogen Stidworthy

20.      Ines Doujak

21.       Jakob Jakobsen

22.      John Barker

23.      Jonas Staal

24.      Lia Perjovschi and Dan Perjovschi

25.      Liesbeth Bik and Jos van der Pol

26.      Lilian L’Abbate Kelian

27.      Loreto Garin

28.      Luis Ernesto Díaz

29.      Mapa Teatro-Laboratorio de Artistas

30.      María Berríos

31.       Maria Galindo & Esther Argollo, Mujeres Creando

32.      Mark lewis

33.      Marta Neves

34.      Michael Kessus Gedalyovich

35.      Miguel A. López

36.      Nilbar Güres

37.      Otobong Nkanga

38.      Pedro G. Romero Archivo F.X.

39.      Prabhakar Pachpute

40.      Rolf Abderhalden

41.       Romy  Pocztaruk

42.       Ruanne Abou-Rahme Basel Abbas

43.      Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti

44.      Santiago Sepúlveda

45.       Sergio Zevallos

46.       Sheela Gowda

47.       Tamar Guimarães e Kasper Akhøj

48.       Thiago Martins de Melo

49.       Tiago Borges

50.       Tony Chakar

51.        Voluspa Jarpa

52.       Walid Raad

53.       Ximena Vargas

54.       Yael Bartana

55.        Yonamine

UPDATE: Abou-Rahme writes to say that as of this morning, the total number of artists signing the letter has risen to 61, adding that an updated version of the letter will be released this evening. “As of now the majority of artists participating have signed,”  she says.

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