Palestinian artists Samia Halaby and Emily Jacir called out the silencing of artists and cultural workers in an interview with journalist Amy Goodman on the independent news program Democracy Now! In the January 18 segment, both Halaby and Jacir rebuked a widespread pattern of suppression of academics and arts community members in solidarity with Palestine amid Israel’s attacks that have so far killed at least 24,448 Palestinians since Hamas’s October 7 assault, during which at least 846 Israeli civilians were killed.
The news segment on the widespread censorship began with a focus on 87-year-old painter Samia Halaby, whose first retrospective in the United States was supposed to open next month at Indiana University’s Eskenazi Museum of Art before it was suddenly canceled in late December on account of so-called “safety concerns.” On Democracy Now!, Halaby described the university’s decision as “much larger” than her.
“It’s an indication that there is a huge gap growing between administrative layers and the government and the students, professors, workers, staff and general population in this country,” Halaby said.
“And it is this very thing I’m talking about, this division in the minds of administrators that they no longer owe anything to the students and to the faculty or to an open atmosphere of learning and discourse, as though disagreement, differences of opinion, were a negative thing,” Halaby continued, characterizing the institutional policing of pro-Palestine advocacy as an “attempted mind control.”
Following Halaby, Jacir spoke about her own experience with the University of Potsdam, which canceled a talk she was slated to give at a workshop in October. Recalling how the university had told her that the talk would be postponed “to a more peaceful time,” the Bethlehem-born artist scrutinized the move as “very much part of a coordinated movement.”
“This is one of the methodologies that is being used to actually stop us from being able to speak publicly and share our words and share our work,” Jacir told Goodman in the interview. “This is another way of doing it, is by saying, ‘Oh, we’ll just do this in another peaceful time.’ But this is the time. This is the time when we should be speaking and having discourse, across the board, around the world.”
Echoing Halaby, Jacir further pointed out how Germany’s repression of Palestinian voices is “part of a larger war effort targeting Palestinian voices and intellectuals,” citing incidents of harassment, canceled events, and defamation including the literary association Litprom’s sudden cancellation of its October award ceremony honoring Palestinian author Adania Shibli; German television network ARD‘s last-minute rescission of her sister Annemarie Jacir’s film Wajib (2017) from its scheduled broadcast in November; and the Saarland Museum’s withdrawal of South African artist Candice Breitz’s exhibition, which was supposed to open at the Modern Gallery this year.
“It’s really important to consider the way this attempt at creating a culture of fear amongst the arts community globally and internationally is happening through these baseless smear campaigns and defamation, threatening people’s jobs,” Jacir told Goodman, referencing the repercussions she personally faced after signing on to an October 19 open letter. Calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, the missive received thousands of signatories and was initially shared by the art collective For Freedoms on social media, then republished in publications Artforum and Hyperallergic. However, swift backlash to the letter came within days including several counterletters calling out the original missive’s failure to mention Hamas’s October 7 assault and the firing of the publication’s Editor-in-Chief David Velasco.
“One of the things that happened to me was that there was a letter-writing campaign in which every university I’ve ever taught at internationally, anyone that’s ever given me an award received literally a five-page PDF claiming that I was an ISIS terrorist that supports the rape of women and the killing of babies,” Jacir recalled.
“It’s very targeted and very systematic, and it’s something to consider also in relationship with the targeted destruction of culture in Gaza, art centers being bombed. Why would an art center be bombed? Because part of genocide is precisely silencing artists and silencing a culture’s cultural production.”
The artists’ comments follow a statement released by the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art earlier this week, condemning the censorship and suppression of Palestinian arts community members.