18 June will see the opening of the fifteenth instalment of the major international contemporary art exhibition Documenta in Kassel, curated by the Indonesian collective ruangrupa. The inclusion of the artist collective The Question of Funding (QoF) from Ramallah in Palestine has sparked heated discussion in German media. In January, Kassel Alliance Against Anti-Semitism filed charges of anti-Semitism against QoF, and thus indirectly against Documenta. The alliance claimed that several of the artists in QoF are anti-Semites, pointing to their support for and involvement in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS is a global campaign that calls for economic and social sanctions against Israeli goods and initiatives and works towards having the Israeli government introduce full equality for Palestinian citizens.
Documenta published a press release on its own website on 19 January in response to the accusations of anti-Semitism. It described the allegations as false and destructive misrepresentations that hinder critical and productive debate. At the same time, Documenta emphasised that it takes the responsibility that comes with Germany’s particular history very seriously. Furthermore, it stated that the work on this year’s instalment is based not only on the principle of freedom of expression, but also on “a resolute rejection of antisemitism, racism, extremism, Islamophobia, and any form of violent fundamentalism.”
Responding to Kunstkritikk, Documenta’s press officer stated that QoF members are not available for interviews. As of press time, Kunstkritikk has not succeeded in reaching a spokesperson for Documenta to answer questions. Requests for comment were instead directed to an upcoming panel discussion titled We need to talk! Art – Freedom – Limits, featuring invited academics with backgrounds in law, media, and art, and whose research investigates colonialism, the Holocaust, and anti-Semitism. More information about who will participate and when the debate will take place will be announced at a later date.
In 2019, the majority in Germany’s federal parliament passed a resolution equating involvement in BDS with anti-Semitism. Claudia Roth, the current minister of culture and one of the leaders of the German party Die Grünen (The Green Party), voted in favour of the resolution. This means, among other things, that institutions and events which are associated with or encourage attitudes in line with the BDS campaign do not qualify for public funding for cultural events.
In an email to Kunstkritikk, Roth said that she has engaged in intensive exchanges with Documenta management, the city of Kassel, and the state of Hesse. She sees Documenta as one of the most important cultural events in Germany, being of the highest international importance for art and culture, and said she supports the initiative from Documenta to arrange a conversation with a forum of international experts.
“I think it’s right that the Documenta wants to facilitate a debate to discuss the fundamental right to artistic freedom in the fight against racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia, and I will support them on the way there,” Roth said.
This article was updated on 8 April 2022 at 16:50, to correct a misunderstanding: The interview scheduled with artist Yazan Khalili was not cancelled by Documenta’s press team, they merely forwarded that decision on his behalf.