Israeli artist refuses to open Venice show in war protest

By Thomson Reuters Apr 16, 2024 | 3:59 AM

ROME (Reuters) – The artist chosen to represent Israel at the prestigious Venice Biennale art fair said on Tuesday that she was refusing to open the national pavilion until there was a ceasefire and hostage release deal in Gaza.

“I feel that the time for art is lost,” Ruth Patir wrote in a statement on Instagram, explaining why she and the exhibits’ two curators had decided to shutter the show.

“And so if I am given such a remarkable stage, I want to make it count,” she said.

Almost 9,000 people, including artists and museum directors, signed an online appeal in February calling for Israel to be excluded from the Biennale art fair and accusing the country of genocide in Gaza during its war against Hamas.

Israel rejects any accusation of genocide and both the Biennale organisers and the Italian government dismissed the petition, saying it was vital for Israel to be given space at the show.

Dubbed the “Olympics of the art world”, the Biennale is one of the main events in the international arts calendar. This year’s edition, “Foreigners Everywhere”, is due to host pavilions from 90 countries between April 20 and Nov. 24.

Patir, whose work for Venice includes video of ancient fertility statues as a commentary on women’s roles, was chosen last year to represent Israel by a panel of arts professionals appointed by the Israeli culture ministry.

Israel’s exhibit was partially funded by the Israeli government. It made no immediate comment on Patir’s decision to shutter the show.

Israel has faced mounting criticism over its military offensive in the Palestinian enclave, which was triggered by an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants, who killed some 1,200 people and took 253 hostages, according to Israel’s tally.

Some hostages were freed in a November truce, but more than 130 are still unaccounted for and efforts to secure a new ceasefire deal have failed. More than 33,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed by Israel in the war, Gazan medics say.

Patir wrote that she was opposed to cultural boycotts, but said: “I prefer to raise my voice with those I stand with in their scream, ceasefire now, bring people back from captivity. We can’t take it any more.”

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Peter Graff)