Days after Mumbai-based cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote and Israeli artist Bracha Ettinger quit German art exhibition Documenta 16’s finding committee, the remaining four members have also tendered their resignations.
In their resignation letter on Thursday, Gong Yan of the Shanghai Institute of Visual Art, Paris-based writer and curator Simon Njami, Vienna-based curator Kathrin Rhomberg and Colombia-born curator María Inés Rodríguez said that their decision was based on “grave concern for the future of Documenta”.
Documenta is an exhibition of contemporary art that takes place every five years in Germany’s Kassel. The finding committee was responsible for selecting the artistic director for the next edition scheduled to take place in 2027.
Hoskote resigned from the committee on November 12 after Germany’s Culture Minister Claudia Roth threatened to withdraw public funding for the event. She said that a 2019 letter signed by Hoskote, among others, was “clearly antisemitic”.
The 2019 letter was published as part of an article by a German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung on November 9. The letter had been circulated by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, a global movement to pressurise Tel Aviv into withdrawing from the occupied Palestinian territories and abiding by human rights laws.
Ettinger’s resignation on November 12 was not linked to the controversy around Hoskote. She said that her decision was based on the “dark times” affecting her country, Israel, reported ARTnews.
On Thursday, the remaining members of the panel said that the public discrediting of Hoskote in the last few days makes them “very doubtful if this prerequisite for any coming edition of Documenta is currently given in Germany”.
“Art requires a critical and multi-perspective examination of its diverse forms and contents to be able to resonate and develop its transformative capacity,” they wrote. “Categorical, one sided reductions and over-simplifications of complex contexts threaten to nip any such examination in the bud.”
They said that while they do understand that Germany has great sensitivity towards all antisemitic tendencies, “this awareness of special responsibilities runs the risk of being misused for opinion politics in order to suppress undesirable approaches and their broad and open discussion”.
The members said that they do not believe Germany currently has a space for an open exchange of ideas and the development of complex and nuanced artistic approaches that Documenta artists and curators deserve.
Following this, Hoskote told The Indian Express on Sunday that the resignations by other members show that Documenta can no longer live up to its reputation “as a forum hospitable to diverse ideas, multiple perspectives, to dialogue among varied positions and a fearless engagement with global urgencies, always amplifying the voices of the marginalized and dispossessed”.
In his resignation letter earlier, Hoskote had denied allegations of antisemitism saying it cannot be equated to being anti-Zionism.
Hoskote said that he signed the petition at the heart of the controversy because the 2019 event titled “Leaders’ Idea of Nation in the Context of Zionism and Hindutva”, organised by the Israeli consulate in Mumbai, equated Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, and Hindutva ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.
He added the event was intended to “develop intellectual respectability for an alliance between Zionism and Hindutva”.
“I found this highly ironic, since Savarkar was known to be an admirer of Hitler and openly expressed his admiration for Nazi ideology and methods, which he proposed as a model for a Hindu-majoritarian India to follow, especially with regard to the treatment of the religious minorities,” wrote Hoskote. “No member of the German commentariat who denounced me has asked herself or himself why the Israeli Consulate General thought it appropriate to equate Zionism with Hindutva in the first place.”
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