Indiana University Has Canceled a Retrospective on Palestinian Artist Samia Halaby

An online petition seeking to have the show reinstated has already received nearly 5,000 signatures.

Samia Halaby. Photo courtesy of the Palestine Museum US.

Indiana University’s Eskenazi Museum of Art has cancelled an upcoming show of work by Palestinian artist Samia Halaby. The exhibition, “Samia Halaby: Centers of Energy,” had been in the works for three years, The New York Times reported, and was positioned as Halaby’s first U.S. retrospective. It was scheduled to open February 10, before eventually traveling to the Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University.

On December 20, Halaby was informed that the show would be canceled via a two-sentence letter from the museum’s director, David Brenneman, according to the Times. “I write to formally notify you that the Eskenazi Museum of Art will not host its planned exhibition of your work,” the note read. Brenneman had previously praised Halaby for her art.

The cancellation came shortly after Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, a Republican, sent a letter to the university saying it could lose federal funding if so-called “antisemitism” was allowed on campus.

In an email to Artnet News, university spokesperson Mark Bode said, “Academic leaders and campus officials canceled the exhibit due to concerns about guaranteeing the integrity of the exhibit for its duration.” He declined to answer questions clarifying the statement.

Halaby, in a statement to the Times, said, “It is clearly my freedom of expression that is under question here.” Artnet News has reached out to Halaby for comment but did not hear back by press time.

The artist was born in Jerusalem in 1936, before the modern state of Israel was created in 1948, forcing the displacement of nearly a million Palestinians. Since 1951, Halaby has been based in the United States. She graduated from Indiana University with an MFA in painting and went on to teach at the Kansas City Art Institute in 1964, where she received a research grant to study geometric abstraction in Islamic architecture in the Mediterranean region. Since then, she has been considered a leading abstract painter and scholar of Palestinian art.

In the aftermath of Hamas’ attack on October 7, Halaby has been vocal with her support of Palestine amid Israel’s escalating assault on Gaza. On her Instagram account, the artist has called for solidarity with the Palestinian people, writing on October 21: “Cease fire, open all gates, freedom of movement. Send AID of all manner.”

An online petition has been started, seeking the reinstatement of the show. It has received nearly 5,000 signatures as of January 11.

“The University community—including students, faculty, staff, and alumni as well as the wider Bloomington and Indiana region—have been deprived of an important exhibition of contemporary art and first-rate cultural experience,” the petition read. “With the show canceled at the eleventh hour, the museum walls will lay bare for more than six months.”


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