Syrian Film Collective Abounaddara Withdraws from Venice Biennale Claiming Censorship

The Venice Biennale denies censorship claims.

Image created by Abounaddara to accompany their withdrawal announcement<br>Photo via: Abounaddara's Facebook page

Image created by Abounaddara to accompany their withdrawal announcement
Photo via: Abounaddara’s Facebook page

The Syrian film collective Abounaddara has withdrawn its participation in the Venice Biennale’s International Art Exhibition—Okwui Enwezor’s “All the World’s Futures”—claiming that their film All the Syria’s Futures, the first one in a series to be released on a weekly basis, was censored and not screened on May 5, as per previous agreement (see Okwui Enwezor’s 56th Venice Biennale Is Morose, Joyless, and Ugly and Playing Politics: JJ Charlesworth on Why Art World Hypocrisy Stars at the 56th Venice Biennale).

The short film features Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria, walking down a red carpet past a military formation. The screen then fades to black, with the message: “Sorry for this technical failure. Please keep enjoying the spectacle.”

Abounaddara, which received a special mention from the Venice Biennale jury on Saturday, took to social media to express its discomfort. In a letter addressed to the Venice Biennale and posted on its Facebook page, the film collective explained its decision:

Dear Venice Biennale

We would like to thank you for awarding our films a Special Mention. However, we do not understand how this award could have been granted when our opening short, All the Syria’s Futures, is still not scheduled to appear in the Arena – this despite the fact that it was supposed to be screened beginning on May 5th.

Furthermore, we have just been informed that our other short films will be screened to the public in 30 minutes blocs, scheduled between readings from Marx’s Capital and various musical interludes.

This does not conform to our initial agreement, which stipulated that each of our films would be shown on a dedicated screen for one week.

[…]

We were evidently mistaken. Our first film was censored, and our remaining films risk becoming nothing more than entertaining distractions from the main Spectacle.

For these reasons, we have no choice but to withdraw our work from the Arena. We invite the public to follow our films online, where they will continue to be released every Friday.

The Venice Biennale responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, stating:

As neither the Venice Biennale nor any of its representatives nor Okwui Enwezor have been contacted directly about this we do not want to comment but can only say that we are rather surprised and have to insist that there was of course no censorship whatsoever but on the contrary the films were shown exactly as agreed upon by Abounaddara and they obviously were also seen, if I may add, among others by the International Jury of the 56, International Art Exhibition, who honored Abounaddara’s contribution by giving them a special mention, the second highest honor possible.

Abbounaddara is a collective of anonymous filmmakers that started producing and releasing films on their Vimeo channel on a weekly basis shortly after the uprising in Syria in 2011.

Film still from an Abbounaddara piece<br>Photo via: Ashkalalwan

Still from an Abbounaddara film
Photo via: Ashkalalwan

Influenced by the pioneering documentary work of Dziga Vertov, the aim of the collective is to challenge the cultural, social, and political stereotypes associated with Syrian society.

The group was awarded the New School’s 2014 Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics and the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

Neither Abounaddara nor the Venice Biennale press office were available when contacted by artnet News to comment on their opposed stances regarding Abounaddara’s withdrawal and the alleged censorship of their work.

You can see Abounaddara’s All the Syria’s Futures below:


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