New pictures with anti-Jewish content have appeared at the Documenta after the world art show had been shaken by an anti-Semitism scandal right after it opened. This was initially reported on Wednesday by the “Jewish General” and “Bild”.
These are brochures with caricatures that the Algerian women’s collective “Archives des Luttes des Femmes en Algerie” (Archives of the Struggle of Women in Algeria) displayed in the Fridericianum, one of the main exhibition locations of the Documenta, as part of a larger archive presentation.
A visitor reported the content to the Research and Information Center for Antisemitism Hessen (RIAS Hessen). RIAS Hessen in turn published photos of the brochures and subjected the contents to a thorough examination. “We did extensive research to put the images in context,” says Susanne Urban, head of RIAS Hessen, the Tagesspiegel.
RIAS sees the interpretation of the images as its task, but not to intervene politically with the Documenta management or the board of trustees.
The three cropped images that were released include a woman kneeling a soldier wearing a helmet and wearing a Star of David. In the background you can see four feet, the outer ones painted with Arabic characters, the inner ones with the Star of David. The scene is supposed to depict a rape. A child stands in the corner.
In another image, a Jewish soldier with a rifle pulls a child’s ear while hands are sticking out of a pit in the background. It is insinuated that Jewish soldiers kill children or threaten them with death. According to RIAS Hessen, these images should also be seen in the context of old anti-Semitic stereotypes.
According to a report by the “Jüdische Allgemeine” it is a 34-year-old facsimile brochure that the Algerian collective “Presence des Femmes” published in a special issue on Palestine in 1988. According to RIAS Hessen, the drawings in question showed the country of Palestine, provided with classifications that deny the legitimacy of the State of Israel. It contains excerpts from the booklet “Ghassan Kanafani’s children”. Ghassan Kanafani was an author and spokesman for the terrorist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLPF). He died in an attack in Lebanon in 1972. According to RIAS, the stories were written between 1962 and 1969, according to the “Jewish General”.
According to Susanne Urban, the brochure was initially removed from the exhibition, but was then returned to its place a few days later.
In the meantime, the documenta confirmed at the request of the newspaper “Die Welt” that the pictures had been checked in the meantime: “There is a clear reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but no illustrations of Jews ‘as such’,” said one spokeswoman according to the information.
A statement said: “The Star of David is a clearly Jewish symbol, but as part of the state flag it marks the Israeli military.” The work was not classified as criminally relevant. However, after a “review”, a “contextualisation in the exhibition” should now be carried out.
The Documenta also let it be known that a comprehensive examination of the works shown in Kassel was not planned. “There will be no screening of the exhibition for any anti-Semitic motifs.” A decision that caused massive criticism.
The head of the Anne Frank educational institution, Meron Mendel, is, in his own words, “stunned”. “While our educational team at the information stand on Friedrichsplatz is explaining anti-Semitic imagery, the worst anti-Semitic caricatures are once again becoming known, which the artistic director of the Documenta and Ms. Schormann had apparently been pointed out to by a visitor weeks ago,” Mendel told dpa. “I’m honestly stunned that I, as a consultant to the Documenta at the time, was not informed about this and that instead, on the basis of a legal opinion, the decision was made to leave the problematic works with clearly anti-Semitic imagery in the exhibition.”
“Despite numerous warnings and references, anti-Semitic works were not prevented from being published at the documenta,” said FDP foreign policy officer Frank Müller-Rosentritt. He called for the federal funds to be stopped as long as there was no comprehensive check for anti-Semitic content.
The President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, raised allegations against the new Documenta management. “Either nobody at the documenta is able to recognize anti-Semitism, or nobody is willing to prevent it,” Schuster told the “Bild”. The head of the Central Council criticized the fact that the new head of Documenta was reluctant to use scientific support.
Helge Lindh, cultural policy spokesman for the SPD parliamentary group, reminds the depiction “inevitably of typical Nazi caricatures”. Lindh told the “Welt” that he called for “a comprehensive inspection and assessment of the entire inventory of works of art for anti-Semitic motifs by external German and international experts”.
Anti-Semitism is “not taken seriously by the documenta management, maybe even tolerated,” criticized Marlene Schönberger, who is responsible for combating anti-Semitism in the Greens parliamentary group in the newspaper. The deputy leader of the Union parliamentary group, Dorothee Bär, said: “Wanting to hide inhuman anti-Semitism under the label of artistic freedom is unacceptable.”
According to RIAS Hessen, the images are clearly anti-Semitic, they “shifted the image from “the Jews” to the “Jewish state”. “It is striking that the people identified as Israeli soldiers primarily threaten smaller boys and young people. The image of the “child murderer Israel” sounds very clear here,” quotes the “Jewish General” RIAS.
“It is important to recognize that the images have an effect on the viewer, our task is to explain images of anti-Semitism, to deconstruct them and to show the power they emanate.” RIAS wants to use images like these in its educational work .
Susanne Urban regrets that the concerns of the Jewish communities were not taken seriously by the documenta. Among other things, the Central Council of Jews in Germany had warned early on. Although the Documenta supervisory board only recently decided to have experts review the contents of the Documenta, it has apparently not yet begun.
According to the Documenta handbook, “Archives des Luttes des Femmes en Algerie” shows a “chronicle of the women’s movement and women’s mobilization in Algeria, including interviews with female activists”. The women’s initiative was founded in 2019 by the anthropologist and researcher Awl Haouati with the aim of making written and photographic material from activists and women’s associations accessible to the diaspora. According to the Documenta handbook, 60 reproductions of different material on the women’s rights movement in Algeria are on display in the Fridericianum. Susanne Urban says: “This shows that even well-intentioned, liberal movements are not free from anti-Semitism”.
The great uneasiness at the Documenta arises from the fact that images with anti-Semitic content are practically foisted on you. Without comment, without warning, everyone is left to interpret, to draw the right conclusions. That overwhelms. After the dismissal of general director Sabine Schormann, not everything is in order, even under interim managing director Alexander Farenholtz, the processing of the scandal is apparently not progressing. He had recently emphasized that under no circumstances should “the impression be given that the scientific support would introduce a supervisory authority”.
New protests are now emerging from politics. The culture-political spokesman for the SPD parliamentary group, Helge Lindh, also said in the “Welt” that the pictures were “inevitably reminiscent of typical Nazi caricatures”. Lindh calls for “a comprehensive inspection and assessment of the entire stock of works of art for anti-Semitic motifs by external German and international experts”.
Anti-Semitism is “not taken seriously by the Documenta management, maybe even tolerated,” criticized Marlene Schönberger, the member of the Greens in the Bundestag who is responsible for combating anti-Semitism.