Pro-Palestine protesters disrupted a performance by Cuban artist and activist Tania Bruguera at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof on Saturday, February 10, twice interrupting the 100-hour-long reading of Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. Originally beginning at 7pm on February 7 and slated to run until 11pm on February 11, the work lasted 88 hours out of 100, according to a statement from Bruguera. The German museum characterized the protests as consisting of “violent hate speech” on social media, though the artist refuted these claims, clarifying in another post that the interventions were non-violent while also criticizing aspects of the actions.
Videos posted to social media by the art activist group Thawra (Arabic for “revolution”) and Palästina Spricht (German for “Palestine Speaks”) showed roughly three dozen demonstrators forming a single line, holding up Palestinian flags and solidarity signs, and verbally sparring with museum staff and Bruguera, chanting “Shame on you! Shame on you!” during one of the interventions. At one point, Bruguera confronted protesters, asking them, “Do you have a gun? Are you going to kill me?” to which they vocally denied any violent intention. Later, on social media, some commenters characterized the questions Bruguera directed to the activists as a “racial attack.”
In one of the two public statements she made about the action, Bruguera wrote, “They came, they protested, they made their points, people listened, some reacted, some observed, and they departed peacefully.” She added that the first disruption was at her invitation and “carried out according to the project’s guidelines.” The activists confirmed that they were invited by Bruguera “to take over the 2pm to 3pm slot,” during which they read statements and demands in support of Palestine, Sudan, Kurdistan, and Western Sahara.
Bruguera and Hamburger Bahnhof have not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s requests for comment.
In an additional statement, Bruguera criticized elements of the action, expressing her strong condemnation of some protesters’ verbal attacks directed toward the museums’ directors and guest reader Mirjam Wenzel, director of the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt. Maintaining that the interventions were “resolved with civility and understanding” and that the Hamburger Bahnhof never called the police nor pressed charges, Bruguera commended the museum’s handling of the disruptions and said that staff showed courage by creating a “safe space where all voices could be heard” even as protesters “unjustly labeled [them] in various hurtful racist ways.”
As an example, Bruguera noted that the museum’s director Sam Bardaouil was “called a racist” and “an Arab with light skin.”
Bruguera also denounced protesters’ accusations against Wenzel, who was scheduled to participate in the performance between 8pm and 9pm. Approximately ten minutes into her reading, activists interrupted by chanting “Free Palestine” and “From the River to the Sea” while also calling her a “Zionist” and a “racist,” according to statements from the Jewish Museum Frankfurt and Wenzel.
The reading was paused for about 20 minutes, resuming at 9pm with the next speaker.
In its response to Hamburger Bahnhof’s statement regarding the intervention, Thawra and Palästina Spricht accused Wenzel of expressing “uncritical support for Israel” and alleging that she supported a since-scrapped resolution that would have required applicants for German citizenship to sign a declaration of loyalty to Israel. Wenzel refuted the claim when reached by Hyperallergic for comment. Wenzel added that in an October 12 interview, she criticized what she perceived as “the silence of German cultural institutions” with respect to Hamas’s October 7 attack, in which approximately 695 Israeli civilians were killed. Israeli forces have since killed upwards of 27,947 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, as well as at least 382 Palestinians in the West Bank, according to the latest figures from the United Nations.
A group called The Collective Alarm for Palestine shared an unsigned statement with Hyperallergic allegedly written by demonstrators who participated in Saturday’s action.
“In the last weeks, we have seen attempts at holding ‘Israel’ accountable for the terrorist, genocidal acts it commits against the Palestinian people — but they have all failed to achieve any relief for the innocent people being murdered, maimed, displaced, and taken hostage every day by the terrorist ‘state of Israel,’” the statement begins, drawing attention to the current air attacks on Rafah and demanding an immediate ceasefire. Criticizing the right-wing party Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the country’s “unquestioned support for the State of Israel,”, the statement goes on to call for an end to the “illegal occupation of Palestine” and the release of all Palestinians currently being held in Israeli prisons.