Israeli mayor faces backlash for forcing museum to remove artwork he says used ‘gutter language’
Late last month, an Israeli art museum unceremoniously removed a political painting from a group exhibit. Today, dozens of artists in the exhibition decry the move as an act of censorship – and they demand that their own works be removed in protest.
At the heart of the controversy is Jerusalem, a 1997 painting by Israeli artist David Reeb that depicts inverted images of an Orthodox man praying at the Western Wall with the captions “Golden Jerusalem” and “Shit Jerusalem”.
The artwork has been included in “The institution», An exhibition of more than 60 Israeli artists inaugurating the recently renovated Ramat Gan Israeli Art Museum outside Tel Aviv.
Days after the exhibition opened on December 23, the mayor of Ramat Gan, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, posted a photo of Reeb’s painting on his Facebook profile, asking his followers whether the work was “shameful. Was to be removed from the exhibition.
“Jerusalem is a symbol that is in the heart of every Jew and sacred to all religions,” he wrote in a follow-up article. “Ramat Gan did not build a museum for a huge sum of money and will not subsidize it every year to expose his children and others to gutter language.”
Shama-Hacohen then asked the museum to remove the painting, which the institution quickly did.
“I was surprised by the ridiculous accusation by the mayor of Ramat Gan that this is a ‘racist painting’,” Reeb told Artnet News in an email. “Of course, that’s not such a thing. I absolutely respect religious people of all beliefs and faiths and have fought racism all my life. I guess it’s easier for some people to call it racist or anti-Semitic than it is to take responsibility for the dispossession and oppression we live with.
After Reeb’s paint was removed, around 40 other performers from the show covered their contributions with a black sheet as a sign of solidarity. Shama-Hacohen then asked the museum administration to remove the clothes, and again the museum nodded.
Reeb added that the board of directors of the Ramat Gan museum “acted as a buffer for the mayor, who pressured them and threatened that the museum would not be funded if the painting was not taken down.”
“Their capitulation to censorship threatens artistic freedoms and more generally democratic rights,” he added.
After the mayor’s move, 43 artists sent an open letter to the museum demanding the immediate removal of their works from the museum.
“Freedom of expression has been severely damaged, the exhibition has become fundamentally flawed, and our working environment as artists has become dangerous and threatened,” the artists wrote in the letter.
Meanwhile, Reeb, working with the Civil Rights Association in Israel, challenged the action of the Ramat Gan Museum in a Tel Aviv district court, demanding that his painting be returned for display. The judge ruled in favor of the museum.
In one declaration on its website, the institution said it “regrets the need for a court ruling on this matter. Professional museum staff and museum board officials have expressed their views on the fear of a serious violation of the autonomy of the museum institution, the principle of freedom of expression and the statute of the museum. At the same time, we respect the court’s decision and will act according to the decision. “
The museum also launched an appeal to the artists participating in the exhibition.
“With you, in transparency and cooperation, we will overcome this crisis and prove that the reopening of the Israel Art Museum is an important and precious event for the field of art and for Israeli society, for its variety of identities. . “
Museum administrators could not be contacted for further comment.
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