Documenta curators apologize for 'betrayal and shock'

25 Jun

"We apologize for the disappointment, shame, frustration, betrayal, and shock this stereotype has caused the viewers and the whole team," wrote Indonesian art collective and documenta fifteen curators, Ruangrupa, in a statement on Thursday.


The curators acknowledged that the imagery contained in a mural banner that on Tuesday was removed from a public square in Kassel — where documenta has been staged every five years since 1955 — "connects seamlessly to the most horrific episode of German history in which Jewish people were targeted and murdered on an unprecedented scale."

The group called the Jewish community in Kassel and Germany "our allies," adding that they continue to "live under the trauma of the past and the continued presence of discrimination, prejudice and marginalization."

Jewish groups demand resignations

But for Jewish groups like the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the apology has come too late as calls grow for documenta general director Sabine Schormann to resign. She remains in the job, however, and is determined to move forward with the event, saying her priority is "getting the ship back on course." Speaking Thursday in Kassel to German press agency, dpa, she said that "in rough seas, a captain does not jump ship." 

In an interview with Spiegel magazine, she also stated that she has "organizational responsibility" for documenta 15 and is "not responsible for the artistic processes" in which the mural was hung. She explained that the work went up a day before the art show opening due to some last-minute repairs, and that there was no time to properly inspect the large banner.

The curators acknowledged that they had "collectively failed to spot the figure in the work, which is a character that evokes classical stereotypes of antisemitism.'' "It clearly contains antisemitic imagery" that "crosses borders and hurts feelings," said Schormann. "We all regret this from the bottom of our hearts."

Taring Padi, the Indonesia artist collective who produced the offending work, "People's Justice," have also apologized. Meanwhile, Jörg Sperling, the chairman of a supporting body for the event, documenta Forum, has resigned after criticizing the removal of the Taring Padi work.

Putting artwork in historical context

Despite the wave of apologies in the wake of the antisemitism scandal, Schormann also noted that Taring Padi created the mural twenty years ago "in a completely different context." She said it was important to take into account that "the disputed motifs are frequently used in the visual language in Indonesia," mentioning, for example, "satirically exaggerated" figures in local puppet theater.

The members of the Finding Committee for the Artistic Direction of documenta fifteen also backed Taring Padi, expressing "respect for … their long struggle against the oppression and dictatorship of the Suharto years in Indonesia." 

In a statement, the committee also said that "we stand fully behind our selection of ruangrupa to curate this year's edition of the historic exhibition in Kassel."

Documenta to have more federal influence?

Meanwhile, German State Minister for Culture and the Media, Claudia Roth, has called for potential restructuring of the global art exhibition so that the federal government oversees the event to ensure that no further antisemitic works appear. She said the federal government's withdrawal from documenta's supervisory board in 2018 was a "serious mistake."

The federal government has otherwise distanced itself from the current scandal, with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz confirming on Wednesday evening that he will not attend the global art show. "Chancellor Olaf Scholz finds the said image in Kassel disgusting," said a spokesperson.


Edited by: Dagmar Breitenbach

Author Stuart Braun    

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