Documenta Curator Appears in Bundestag, Denies Boycott of Israeli and Jewish Artists

Ade Darmawan, a member of the Indonesia curatorial collective ruangrupa, who curated the contentious Documenta 15 currently running in Kassel, during a July 6 appearance at a hearing in the Bundestag, Germany’s national parliament, refuted allegations that the group had purposely not included Jewish or Israeli artists in this year’s iteration of the quinquennial. Darman confirmed that artists of each description are represented in the exhibition, but did not name them at the individuals’ request.

Darmawan’s appearance before members of parliament followed on ruangrupa’s apology, issued late last month, for its inclusion of People’s Justice, a 2002 mural by Indonesian collective Tarang Padi, which was removed after it was discovered to feature two exaggerated and unkind stereotypical depictions of Jewish people. Darmawan took the opportunity of his visit to the Bundestag to apologize again on behalf of the curators for allowing the offensive work to be shown. “We apologize for the pain and fear that the anti-Semitic elements in the figures and drawings have caused in all those who saw them on the spot or in the media coverage reproductions,” he said.

Tarang Padi, who created the work twenty years ago in response to the violent military dictatorship of Suharto in their home country, told the German daily Die Zeit that they had not realized at the time of the work’s making that  the renditions of an Israeli secret service agent with the head of a pig and a caricature of an Orthodox Jewish man wearing a black derby hat bearing the insignia of the Nazi Schutzstaffel were anti-Semitic. The collective, who apologized in June for the work, told the paper, “We had learned something about the Holocaust and the Nazi regime at school, but nothing about anti-Semitism per se,” adding, “It’s part of our learning process now, as we speak and reflect on the subject. We shouldn’t have been so careless. We should have been more empathetic, more thoughtful.”

The controversy surrounding the work has resulted in a threat from German officials to pull funding for Documenta  and comes in the wake of months of allegations that ruangrupa were anti-Semitic owing to their inclusion of a few artists who publicly condemned Germany’s 2019 anti-BDS resolution as a “threat to artistic freedom and freedom of speech.” The curators, who centered their wide-ranging edition of Documenta around the frequently ignored Global South, have consistently denied the accusations.


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