After One of Its Members Was Attacked in Kassel, Art Collective Party Office Cancels Its Documenta Event: ‘We Don’t Feel Safe’
The news is the latest blow to Documenta 15's dwindling reputation.
The New Delhi-based art collective Party Office, which planned to present a public program in Kassel at Documenta, has called off the event, saying it does not feel safe in the city after collective member Joey Cannizzaro came under attack alongside two others in an anti-LGBTQ+ and racist incident.
The public program that was scheduled to take place Wednesday, July 13, was meant to focus on how marginalized groups “do important work in their very acts of survival,” according to a panel description.
“If you are transgender, a person of color, or honestly anyone, please do not come to Kassel Germany or to Documenta 15,” Cannizzaro wrote on Instagram, adding that they and colleagues faced racist and transphobic harassment and intimidation.
On July 2, just days after Party Office and other artists held a meeting with Documenta’s management regarding safety and security issues, Cannizzaro and two others were harassed and chased by six men. Once police arrived, they reportedly accused the artists of not carrying their passports. (If you’re asked to show your passport in Germany as a traveler and you don’t have it with you, the police are allowed to escort you to wherever your passport is being kept.)
Cannizzaro claims they were handcuffed and taken into custody for an hour, and accused Documenta of doing “absolutely nothing to keep us safe or even warn the public and artists that they are in danger here.”
“Documenta 15 has endangered me and hundreds of others that they invited to this neo-Nazi city,” the artist claimed. “I never thought I would be leaving with this degree of trauma, repulsion, outrage, and fear for my friends and collaborators who remain here.”
“We right now don’t feel safe enough,” a member of Party Office told Artnet News on the condition of anonymity.
Contacted for comment, a Documenta spokesperson said it took the incident “extremely seriously.”
“We are in contact with the artists involved from Party Office and the responsible local authorities in order to clarify the circumstances of the incident,” the spokesperson said, declining further comment.
Artnet News has reached out to the local police for comments.
Yet the Party Office member contacted by Artnet News said that wasn’t enough. “They are only taking responsibility of our artworks,” they said. “The institution has to take accountability for the person and their physical safety, and respect them.”
Billed as an “anti-caste, anti-racist, trans feminist art and social space,” Party Office was founded in 2020 by artist-curator Vidisha-Fadescha. It was invited to take part in Documenta under the curatorship of Indonesian artist collective Ruangrupa.
As part of the show, Party Office staged an exhibition in Kassel featuring a video installation by Vidisha-Fadescha. The Party Office founder, together with curator Shauank Mahbubani, also put together a presentation titled Queer Time: Kinships & Architectures that involves a dungeon and kink elements. The venue for that exhibition is the same one used by Palestinian collective The Question of Funding, and which was vandalized in May.
Since then, Party Office installed a controversial door policy banning “white cis men” from entering.
“People were continuously unsafe in that space,” the Party Office member said.
A group of local BIPOC urged the show’s management to act.
“We call on members of the curatorial team, especially those who are coming from the Global South, to engage with the local historical settings, the political actors, and their communities better, to protect themselves from aggressive, patronizing, white attitudes of censorship and silencing,” the group said. “White institutions will not protect you.”
For now, Party Office will maintain its exhibition, but wants to transfer the public program outside Kassel. Some events will take place in Berlin in early August, while others will become virtual. Further details are yet to be announced.
Controversies and scandals have been swirling around this year’s Documenta, particularly after an antisemitic artwork by the Indonesian collective Taring Padi titled People’s Justice (2002) was taken down.
Artist Hito Steyerl subsequently removed her work from the show, saying she had “no faith” in Documenta’s management. Meron Mendel, the director of the Anne Frank Educational Institute, also stepped down from his role as a consultant.
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