The Museum Folkwang in Essen, Germany, has closed a portion of a planned group show in response to a curator’s engagement with pro-Palestine content on social media, igniting accusations of censorships from some artists and curators online.
On Monday, writer, professor, and curator Anaïs Duplan, who goes by the pronouns he/they, posted screenshots on Instagram of an email sent to them from Museum Folkwang director Peter Gorschlüter informing them that the institution had decided to “suspend” their “collaboration.”
The email reads: “We noticed that you shared and commented on a number of posts on your Instagram channel in the light of the current situation in Israel and Gaza. From our perspective some of these posts are unacceptable. These posts do not acknowledge the terroristic attack of [Hamas] and consider the Israeli military occupation in Gaza a genocide.”
Gorschlüter continued that Duplan’s engagement put the museum “in a situation that the museum might be considered to support antisemitic tendencies and voices that question the very right of existence of the state Israel.”
The show, titled “We is Future” and slated to open on November 24, invited artists and curators to propose “historic and current” ideas “for alternative forms of living together” in relation to various social catastrophes: climate change, the housing crisis, late-stage capitalism, among others. The “chapters” of the show listed on its webpage include architectural projects from Bruno Taut and Wenzel Hablik, eco-conscious drawings and paintings by Elisàr von Kupffer, and contemporary works by Eglė Budvytytė, Emma Talbot, and Timur Si-Qin.
Duplan’s chapter was centered on the intersectional potential of Afrofuturism and was set to feature, among others, Brooklyn-based artist Fields Harrington, whose multidisciplinary practice examines the inextricability of race from our social fabric. The description of Duplan’s chapter has since been deleted from the webpage.
A Museum Folkwang representative told ARTnews:
“In autumn 2022, Museum Folkwang has invited Anaïs Duplan to curate a chapter on “Afrofuturism” for [the exhibition]. The curator, author and professor of literature, who lives in the USA, has recognised expertise in this subject area. Since 18 October 2023, various posts relating to the current situation in Israel and Gaza have been shared and commented on by Duplan on the Instagram channel @an.duplan. On 10 November, a post appeared on this account calling for support for the BDS network. The German Bundestag has categorised this network as anti-Semitic.”
The statement continued: “This decision was made neither for artistic-curatorial reasons nor because of the exhibition’s theme, but solely because the curator personally takes sides with the BDS campaign, which questions Israel’s right to exist. The Museum Folkwang views the developments in Israel and Gaza and the suffering of the civilian population on both sides with great concern. The City of Essen and the Museum Folkwang stand for peace and dialogue between cultures.”
Amid an outpouring of support from professional peers, Duplan wrote in an Instagram post Monday that their priorities were “to ensure that any artists in the future—especially BIPOC artists—who are considering working with [the museum] have full transparency regarding their politics, not just in relation to the war on Palestine, but also their very fraught labor practices.”
Duplan added in a separate post Tuesday: “It should go without saying that Afrofuturism and liberation struggles around the world go hand in hand, as do Afrofuturism and antisemitism, Afrofuturism and islamophobia, and Afrofuturism and all other struggles for collective wellbeing.”
The art world has grown increasingly polarized in the wake of the October 7 attack by the militant organization Hamas on Israel that involved killing 1,400 citizens and taking more than 200 hostages (some of which have been released). In the weeks since, Israel has executed airstrikes and a ground invasion of Gaza that has killed some 11,000 Palestinians, according to the local health ministry.
Since October 7, there have been numerous open letters signed by different parties in the art world, one of which called for a ceasefire and a Palestinian liberation and was published on Artforum‘s website, among other venues. The decision to publish that letter, presented initially without context and without a mention of the October 7 attack, reportedly resulted in the firing of editor-in-chief David Velasco.
On Sunday, Indian poet and critic Ranjit Hoskote quit the committee that will select an artistic director for Documenta 16, the 2027 edition of the prestigious art festival, after being denounced by the organization for signing a letter that compared Zionism and Hindu nationalism. Documenta called that letter “anti-Semitic” and announced that it would discuss it further with Hoskote. In his resignation letter, published on e-Flux, Hoskote wrote: “It is clear to me that there is no room, in this toxic atmosphere, for a nuanced discussion of the issues at stake.” Also on Sunday, Israeli artist Bracha L. Ettinger resigned from the committee due to, what she called, “dark times” in her home country.
On Tuesday, Lisson Gallery announced plans to pause an Ai Weiwei show after a social media post by the artist about the military campaign in Gaza.