Olivia Colman has joined over 1,000 other artists in calling out the arts sector over its ‘repression, silencing, and stigmatising’ of Palestinian artists and voices amid Israel‘s ongoing onslaught in Gaza and the Occupied Territories.
Olivia Colman: joining other artists to end the ‘repression’ of Palestinian voices
More than 1,300 artists, including Academy Award winning Olivia Colman, Olivier Award winners Harriet Walter and Juliet Stevenson, BAFTA winners Aimee Lou Wood, and Siobhán McSweeney, Paapa Essiedu (I May Destroy You), Susanne Wokoma (Enola Holmes), Youseff Kerkour (Napoleon), Nicola Coughlan (Derry Girls, Bridgerton) and Lolly Adefope (Ghosts, Loki), have launched a letter addressed to the arts and culture sector, that accuses cultural institutions across Western countries of:
repressing, silencing and stigmatising Palestinian voices and perspectives.
They say this includes:
targeting and threatening the livelihoods of artists and arts workers who express solidarity with Palestinians, as well as cancelling performances, screenings, talks, exhibitions and book launches.
In the letter, which you can read in full here, writers Deborah Frances-White (The Guilty Feminist), Kamila Shamsie (Home Fire), Marina Warner (Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tales), Lara Pawson (This is the Place To Be), playwrights Abbie Spallen and Camilla Whitehill, and poets Daisy Lafarge, Malika Booker, and Emily Berry affirm that:
Despite this pressure, artists in their thousands are following their conscience and continuing to speak out. Freedom of expression, as enshrined in the Human Rights Act and the European Convention of Human Rights is the backbone of our creative lives, and fundamental to democracy.
Among examples of censorship, the letter cites Lisson Gallery’s ‘postponement’ of a London exhibition by Ai Weiwei; Folkwang Museum in Essen’s last minute cancellation of curator Anais Duplan’s Afrofuturism exhibition, and the Saarland Museum’s cancellation of a solo exhibition of artist Candida Brietz, both in Germany; the announcement by Hollywood producers that they had dropped actor Melissa Barrero from Scream VII.
In each case the institution attributed the cancellation to comments made by the artist in support of Palestinian rights and unrelated to the content of their professional work.
‘Frustrating and wrongheaded censorship’
This month the publicly funded Arnolfini, Bristol’s International Centre for Contemporary Arts, withdrew from hosting film and spoken word poetry events curated by Bristol Palestine Film Festival, claiming the events might “stray into political activity”. The events have been moved to other venues in the city.
Letter signatory Hassan Abulrazzak, whose play And Here I Am based on the life of a Palestinian actor, was cancelled in Paris in October said:
This censorship is as frustrating as it is wrongheaded. Now is the time to listen to Palestinians, to understand what their lives are like.
Film directors Emma Seligman (Bottoms), Hany Abu-Assad (Omar), Ken Loach (I, Daniel Blake), Aki Kaurismaki (Drifting Clouds), Sally El-Hosaini (The Swimmers), Sara Driver (Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean Michel Baquiat), urged arts organisations to join calls for a permanent ceasefire and to “stand up for artists and workers who voice their support for Palestinian rights”.
They accuse arts organisations of a “disturbing double standard”, saying that:
expressions of solidarity readily offered to other peoples facing brutal oppression, have not been extended to Palestinians.
Award-winning composer Jocelyn Pook, Massive Attack’s Robert del Naja, David Sylvian and electronic composer Rrose along with visual artists Vanessa Jackson, Sean Edwards, Larissa Sansour, Luke Fowler, John Smith, Rosalind Nashashibi, Paul Noble, Florence Peake, John Keane, and P Staff, say they “stand in solidarity with those facing threats and intimidation in the workplace”.
They, as well as Olivia Colman, go on to warn that:
many artists are refusing to work with institutions that fail to meet [these] basic obligations” to uphold freedom of expression and anti-discrimination when it comes to speech on Palestine.
Speaking out must be allowed
Two thousand poets announced a boycott of the Poetry Foundation in the US after its magazine refused to publish a book review it had commissioned. Artists and writers internationally have declared they will no longer work with Artforum magazine, and editorial staff have resigned in response to the firing of the editor David Velasco who had published a letter, signed by 8,000 artists that called for a ceasefire and for ‘Palestinian liberation’.
Last Friday, the UN office in Geneva put out a statement titled “Speaking out on Gaza/Israel must be allowed” which expressed “alarm at the worldwide wave of attacks, reprisals, criminalisation and sanctions against those who publicly express solidarity with the victims of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine”. In it, UN experts stated that:
artists, academics, journalists, activists and athletes have faced particularly harsh consequences and reprisals from states and private actors because of their prominent roles and visibility.
Gabriel Frankel, UK legal officer at the European Legal Support Centre which monitors incidents of repression against advocates for Palestinian rights, said:
we have… seen workers in the sector push back and remain firm in their commitment to justice, and we encourage those who have any concerns to contact the ELSC for advice.
Featured image via Raph_PH – Wikimedia, resized to 1910×1000 under licence CC BY 2.0