Berlin Opening of ‘Martyr Museum’ Extended After Outrage at Inclusion of 9/11, Paris and Brussels Terrorists

Public outcry prompted organizers to extend Danish collective's controversial installation extra day.

Installation shot of Märtyrermuseum (Martyr Museum). Courtesy @NordwindFestival via Facebook.

Organizers of the “Martyr Museum,” a controversial installation in Berlin, have extended its run by an extra day because of the backlash at the provocative inclusion of portraits of the terrorists behind the 2015 and 2016 attacks in Paris and Brussels, and Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001.

The work by Danish collective The Other Eye of the Tiger sparked international outrage when the show opened in the Künstquartier Bethanien at end of November, inciting condemnation on social media from numerous commentators.

Originally due to close today, December 6, the organizers of the Nordwind Festival, have decided to keep the installation open until tomorrow at 7pm. “Due to the development of the last days and the heated debate, there will be a final discussion with experts and the artists,” they said in a  statement.

In the installation, a photograph of Ismael Omar Mostefai, one of the three Bataclan terrorists responsible for the attack that killed 90 people is placed next to an entrance ticket to the concert venue. Atta, the hijacker who flew a plane into the North tower on September 11, as well as the Brussels attackers of 2016, are also featured alongside photos of Joan of Arc, Martin Luther King, Rosa Luxemburg, Socrates, and Jan Palach.

The art collective, made up of six graduates from the Danish School of Performing Arts, said the focus of the controversial show is people who “died for their convictions” and brings together portraits of 20 people who have throughout history been considered a martyr accompanied by short, factual, biographies.

The collective is formed by the artists Morten Hee Andersen, Ida Grarup, Henrik Grimbäck,  Mia-Luise Heide, Suni Joensen, and Asger Kudahl. They have defended the installation, clarifying in a statement that “All martyrs in this work of art have been designated as such by a secular or spiritual organization. None of the exhibited martyrs was made so by the artists.”

Their statement goes on to emphasize that the installation does not pay homage to these so-called martyrs but attempts to show how widely the term is and has been applied over the centuries.

But the French embassy in Berlin called the depiction of one of the Bataclan terrorists as a martyr “deeply shocking.” In a statement, it added: “While keeping in mind our attachment to the freedom of artistic creation, we strongly denounce the confusion made here between martyrdom and terrorism.”   

The French right-wing politician Nicolas Dupont-Aignan tweeted that the installation was “an insult to the victims of Islamism,” and Beatrix von Storch, of the German far-right party AfD, also tweeted a copy of a criminal complaint she filed against Nordwind Festival, which cited a section of the German criminal code (section 140.2) that stipulates anyone who “publicly approves” of unlawful acts is liable to imprisonment not exceeding three years or a fine.

Responding to a question on Facebook, the collective said: “We understand that the relatives of the victims have strong feelings about us doing a project like this… . We do not sympathize with these acts of violence or terror of any kind.”

Nordwind Festival has also addressed the public backlash in a statement, writing, “Many of the FB users or the politicians quoted in the press have not even looked at the exhibition.” They also point out that the installation is a smaller tour version of an original site-specific piece performed in Copenhagen in 2016, which also caused controversy, but after a visit to the museum “indignant politicians […] changed their minds.”

After the panel discussion tomorrow evening, the installation is due travel on to the Kampnagel International Center for Fine Arts in Hamburg where it will show between December 8 and 16.

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