Days of Palestine

Wednesday, May 31

Austrian Pro-Israeli Groups Cancel Lecture about Palestine at Academy of Fine Arts Vienna and Mumok


Hundreds of artists, arts writers, and academics protested the cancellation of Walaa Alqaisiya’s planned presentation based on her forthcoming book, The Politics, and Aesthetics of Decolonial Queering in Palestine, at the last minute.

The lecture was scheduled for May 30 at Mumok Kino, a theater affiliated with the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Wien in Vienna, as part of the Spring Curatorial Program 2022: Art Geographies, a series hosted by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna and Verein K. (Mumok).

Alqaisiya, a Marie Curie Fellow whose work is funded by the European Commission, told colleagues and fellow participants in Art Geographies that she received a call from the organizer on May 26 informing her that her lecture, which promised a “critical, decolonial, and feminist” approach, had been canceled

The cancelation she added came as a response to complaints from pro-Israel groups such as the Austrian Union of Jewish Students and Keshet Austria, who claimed that Alqaisiya’s work was anti-Alqaisiya went on to say that she was afterward invited to a party. “come and engage students on academic freedom at the same institution that has canceled my lecture.”

The program’s curator, Jelena Petrovi, was quick to condemn the cancellation, pointing to Alqaisiya’s credentials as a researcher at Columbia University and Cà Foscari University of Venice, as well as her work as a teaching fellow in the fields of gender, peace, and security and at the London School of Economics, in a joint letter with the leaders of co-organizer Verein K, casting her speaking and writing as meticulously researched.

“The program does not express, support, or imply any anti-Semitic attitudes,” wrote Petrović.

“On the contrary, it deals with complex and difficult issues in the context of exhausted geographies through artistic, theoretical, and research practices, searching for possibilities of planetary sustainable and politically responsible coexistence in conditions of the permanent geopolitical peace, trying to reflect the diversity of positions on the topic.”

Petrović and her colleagues went on to reject allegations of anti-Semitism, which they posited as “an attempt to discredit the lecture and censor its content.”

They additionally contended that “the Spring Curatorial Program distances itself from antisemitism, censorship as well as from any manipulative political misinterpretations that instrumentalize difficult and complex topics, making it impossible to discuss them.”

The rector of the Academy of Fine Art Vienna, Johan Hartle, issued a statement defending the cancellation, claiming that “the text announcing the lecture contains de-differentiations and essentialist exaggerations in relation to Zionism, which was perceived by numerous members of the academy as untenable assertions and an affront; in particular, the Austrian Union of Jewish Students understandably pointed out this transgression of boundaries. Among other things.

The announcement text speaks sweepingly of ‘Zionist(s) structure with the aim of eliminating the indigenous population,’ and thus constructs Zionism generally as an enemy image, so that a discursive and open debate would hardly be possible anymore.”

Shortly thereafter, on May 30, Verein K pulled its entire Spring Curatorial Program from the premises of Academy Fine Arts Vienna and Mumok Kino. Mumok did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The cancellation comes as ruangrupa, an Indonesian curatorial collective, is accused of anti-Semitism on the basis of its inclusion of artists and collectives who signed an open letter arguing that the German Parliament’s 2019 BDS Resolution, which labels the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israel as anti-Semitic, “is a threat to artistic freedom and freedom of speech,” alongside a number of Jewish signatories.

A series of talks intended to address the allegations were canceled, according to German news website DW, following a letter from Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, to Claudia Roth, Germany’s state minister for culture and media, who had initially approved the talks. After a few weeks.

A racist act of vandalism against a Documenta art space happened, prompting more than 130 Documenta artists to defend the curators.