Thousands of Art Workers Call for Israel’s Exclusion From the Venice Biennale

Less than two months before the opening of the 60th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, running from April 20 to November 24, over 9,000 artists and cultural workers have signed a petition calling for the exclusion of Israel from the event.

Started by the group Art Not Genocide Alliance (ANGA), the petition comes after the International Court of Justice’s interim ruling in January, which found “plausible” evidence that Israelʼs ongoing assault on Gaza is breaking the 1951 Genocide Convention.

“We say platforming art representing a state engaged in ongoing atrocities against Palestinians in Gaza is unacceptable,” ANGA’s statement reads. “No Genocide Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.”

Signatories include prominent art world figures, past and present Biennale exhibitors, and curators and cultural workers, both Palestinians and Israelis. Artists Carolina Caycedo, Nan Goldin, Michael Rakowitz, Rehana Zaman, and the British-Palestinian artist Rosalind Nashashibi, known for her celebrated film Electric Gaza (2015), are among those who signed. Other notable names from beyond the art world include scholar Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, economist Yanis Varoufakis, and Tariq Ali, a leading figure of the international left. Of the thousands who signed, 471 have previously worked at or participated in the Venice Biennale, including artists Sin Wai Kin, who was featured in the 2019 edition, and Sophie Al-Maria, who was selected for the event’s 2022 Special Project.

ANGA is a group of international artists, curators, writers, and art workers. A collective with no sole authors, its members have chosen to remain anonymous to protect themselves from attacks frequently directed at pro-Palestinian activists. 

ANGA files 2
A graphic produced by the Art Not Genocide Alliance (image courtesy ANGA)

While the Venice Biennale has allowed Israel to participate year in and year out, in spite of its designation as an “apartheid” state by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, Palestine has always been barred from having its own pavilion. To participate in the national section of the Venice Biennale, the country’s independent government must be acknowledged by the Italian Government, disqualifying Palestine.

The Biennale appears to be politically neutral, following state protocol, but the Venice Biennale is actively involved in making and unmaking countriesʼ statehood. In 2022, the Sámi, a people indigenous to parts of Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Russia, were permitted to use the Nordic Pavilion even though Italy does not recognize the region of Sápmi as a sovereign nation. In March of that same year, the Biennale issued a statement declaring its “full support to the Ukrainian people and to its artists” and “expressing its firm condemnation of the unacceptable military aggression by Russia.” Yet, the festival has been deafeningly silent on the atrocities of Gaza.

While Palestine cannot partake in the national pavilions, the country can participate in the official collateral section, consisting of exhibitions and events around the city outside the main Biennale compound. Any country can take part provided their project is approved by Biennaleʼs board and they pay the entry fee of €25,000 (~$27,127).

A Palestinian collateral project was put forward by the Palestine Museum US in Connecticut, but it was rejected. Titled Foreigners in Their Homeland, the exhibition would reveal the untold stories of a Palestinian people living under occupation in their ancestral land.

“The rejection raises suspicions of a lack of curator familiarity with and appreciation for emerging Palestinian art and artists,” Palestine Museum US Founder and Director Faisal Saleh told Hyperallergic. He said the institution’s proposal directly responded to this yearʼs brief, but he believes it was rejected for political reasons.

Describing the concept for the 2024 exhibition Foreigners Everywhere!, curator Adriano Pedrosa identified “migration and decolonization” as “key themes.” Another focus of the festival, Pedrosa added, is “the Indigenous artist, frequently treated as a foreigner in his or her own land.” 

“There has been a concerning trend of Palestinian voices being silenced in the arts by countries and institutions that align with Israel,” Saleh continued. “The importance of fostering a space where Palestinian narratives can flourish and resonate globally is more pronounced now than ever before.” 

“Israelʼs exhibit amid Gaza genocide raises deep ethical concerns,” Saleh said. 

The Venice Biennale has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s immediate request for comment.

Palestine is represented in the collateral section by another project, Anchor in the Landscape, by Artists and Allies of Hebron, a collective made up of the Hebron-based Palestinian activist Issa Amro and the Berlin-based South African photographer Adam Broomberg. Responding to the project, Saleh opined that it should center Palestinian artists instead of Western perspectives.

Signed by 22,000 people from 124 countries, the Palestine Museum US has started its own separate petition calling on the Venice Biennale to reconsider their decision. In the comments, signatories express passionate resolve. “Some have louder voices than others and some have no voice at all!” one wrote. Another: “Palestinian souls bear both intense joy and intense suffering. Donʼt look away.”

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