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) put on display in the Fridericianum, one of the main exhibition locations of the Documenta, as part of a larger archive presentation.Meanwhile the FDP is calling for the Documenta to be interrupted: “The recent allegations of anti-Semitism reveal an abyss. The Documenta must be interrupted immediately,” said FDP General Secretary Bijan Djir-Sarai on Thursday.
It cannot be “that the exhibition continues to receive funds from the federal budget, is open and receives visitors while these outrageous processes have not been completely clarified and prevented,” said Djir-Sarai. Anti-Semitism is hatred and can never be covered by artistic freedom be.
A visitor who wished to remain anonymous had reported the content to the Research and Information Center for Antisemitism in Hesse (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 pictures in context,” says Susanne Urban, head of Rias Hessen, the Tagesspiegel.
Rias sees the interpretation of the images as his task, but not intervening 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. Four feet can be seen in the background, 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 RIAS Hessen, the brochure is the 34-year-old facsimile booklet “Presence des Femmes”, a special edition on Palestine from 1988, the first year of the Intifada.
“The drawings in question, according to Rias Hessen, show the land 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 “Jüdische Allgemeine”.
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, Documenta has confirmed, initially at the request of the newspaper “Die Welt”, that the pictures have meanwhile been checked: “There is a clear reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but no illustrations of Jews as such,” said a spokeswoman said.
The statement states: “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 motives.” A decision that caused massive criticism. In addition to the Ruangrupa curatorial collective, interim managing director Alexander Farenholtz is also called upon to push ahead with the investigation of the scandal.
He had recently emphasized that under no circumstances should “the impression be given that the scientific support would introduce a supervisory authority”. Farenholtz was appointed to his interim position at the beginning of last week after General Director Sabine Schormann was dismissed.
The head of the Anne Frank educational institution, Meron Mendel, was appalled by the new incidents: “While our educational team at the information stand on Friedrichsplatz is providing information about anti-Semitic imagery, the worst anti-Semitic caricatures are known again, which the artistic director of the Documenta and Ms. Schormann, however had apparently been pointed out 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.”
Criticism also comes from politics. FDP General Secretary Djir-Sarai not only called for the world art exhibition to be interrupted, but also for a comprehensive check for other anti-Semitic works and content. FDP foreign politician Frank Müller-Rosentritt also said: “Despite numerous warnings and references, anti-Semitic works were not prevented from being published at the documenta”. The federal funds should be stopped pending a review. About 10 percent of the Documenta is funded by the federal government, with the budget mainly coming from the City of Kassel and the State of Hesse.
The culture-political spokesman for the SPD parliamentary group, Helge Lindh, said in the “Welt” that the pictures were “inevitably reminiscent of typical Nazi caricatures”. Lindh also calls 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, maybe even tolerated” by the Documenta management, criticized Marlene Schönberger, the member of the Greens in the Bundestag who is responsible for combating anti-Semitism.
The deputy leader of the parliamentary group, Dorothee Bär, said: “It is unacceptable to want to hide inhuman anti-Semitism under the label of artistic freedom.” She also considers a review to be imperative. Elio Adler from the values initiative described the lack of an examination as a “slap in the face”. Anti-Semitism is tolerated by the documenta, “obviously fully aware of its existence”.
The President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, made specific allegations against the new Documenta management: “Either nobody at the Documenta is able to recognize anti-Semitism, or nobody is willing to prevent it,” said Shoemaker of the “image”. The head of the Central Council criticized the fact that the new Documenta boss Farenholtz was reluctant to use scientific support.
According to Rias Hessen’s classification, 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 his 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.