Cloud Studies refloated!

Eyal Weizman, director of Forensic Architecture, speaking at a protest outside the Whitworth Gallery. Image: Twittter

JVL Introduction

In  a climbdown, following massive protest, the University of Manchester has reversed its decision to censor the Cloud Studies exhibition, which it was instrumental in commissioning and mounting.

We repost a number of documents relevant to the resolution:

  1. The Whitworth Gallery press release announcing this reversal: “[W]e concluded last night that it is important for the exhibition to remain open in full at the Whitworth and we expect this to occur later this week.
  2. A letter from Artists for Palestine expressing its alarm at the reports  received “about a campaign by pro-Israel advocacy groups to censor a programme of work at the Whitworth Gallery”.
  3. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign mobilised swiftly and circulated all its members with a strong statement about what was happening (reproduced below) urging them to contact the University.
  4. Finally, we repost  the Guardian’s update on the situation by Damien Gayle.
  5. Late addition after posting: see also this full account in The Art Newspaper: Whitworth Gallery in Manchester U-turns on decision to remove pro-Palestine statement after Forensic Architecture threaten to pull work. It has this super standfirst: “Exhibition addressing the use of tear gas in Palestine adjusted to “give voice to different perspectives” following intervention by Israeli legal groups”

In essence, the exhibition will remain in its full integrity. At the entrance where will be a curated account of the dispute and correspondence surrounding it.

We can only express our solidarity with and admiration for Forensic Architecture’s principled stand and its willingness to withdraw the exhibition rather than have its integrity compromised.

See previous posts Fog and rain over Cloud Studies at the Manchester International Festival; What is going on at the Whitworth?Artists pull work from Whitworth gallery

 


1. Here is how the Whitworth Gallery presented the university’s decision to reverse its previous judgment:

Cloud Studies Exhibition 

18.08.2021 Whitworth Gallery Public Statement with regard to the Cloud Studies Exhibition

We recognise the Cloud Studies exhibition, by Forensic Architecture raises complex issues with widely differing views across different communities and, as a university and gallery, we are also mindful of our role in creating spaces for debate and in academic and artistic freedom.

The exhibition, and particularly a written statement by the artists displayed at its entrance, has led to some serious concern from a number of people and organisations, including local community groups.

Having considered these issues carefully with various stakeholders, we concluded last night that it is important for the exhibition to remain open in full at the Whitworth and we expect this to occur later this week. The University, as a non-political organisation, has tried to balance extremely complex issues raised by the exhibition, but we believe that the worst outcome for all parties concerned would have been to close this exhibition for an extended period of time.

The exhibition, expresses the views of the contributing artists, who have perspectives that come from their own experiences and the experiences of the communities and organisations who commission them. They do not necessarily represent the views of The University of Manchester and have been strongly contested by some. The case studies address complex international issues.

The Whitworth, is mindful of artistic freedoms and the various duties which apply across the work of the gallery, including rights around freedom of speech and expression and academic freedom. These rights must be considered alongside other rights and obligations, including those under equality laws as well as reflecting on the challenges of such deeply divisive issues as those covered by the exhibition.

Importantly, the Cloud Studies exhibition is shown in the protective and academic environment of a University gallery, and within the context of a history of art that has always encompassed provocation and challenge. Museums and galleries have traditionally been a space of experimentation and challenge, and the Whitworth is a place where we may be able to debate, discuss and disagree well, within a safe and empathetic environment.

Cloud Studies was produced by the Whitworth, The University of Manchester and Manchester International Festival.

What we are changing

We recognise the concerns raised, in particular about the inclusion of a written statement by Forensic Architecture, expressing their own views, displayed at the entrance to the exhibition. That’s why the Whitworth has developed a space which gives voice to different  perspectives on the issues raised by the exhibition and help contextualise them. It will be displayed prominently in the gallery.

Whitworth Governance Matters

We have also been asked by a number of stakeholders about changes to our governance. Considering the Government’s proposals to expand further, through legislation, the rights of freedom of speech and expression and academic freedom amongst institutions operating in the higher education sector, the need for a governance review was identified and agreed.  This is entirely separate from any discussion regarding this exhibition and follows a major external review of the University wide governance.

Alistair Hudson
Director, Whitworth Gallery


2. Artists for Palestine email of concern

From: Artists for Palestine UK <[email protected]>
Subject: We urge you to reverse this wrong-headed political censorship
Date: 18 August 2021 at 00:32:50 GMT+1
To: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]

Dear Alistair Hudson, Nancy Rothwell, Nalin Thakkar,

We write to express our alarm at deeply concerning reports about a campaign by pro-Israel advocacy groups to censor a programme of work at the Whitworth Gallery.  We are shocked that the University of Manchester, which controls the Whitworth, apparently acquiesced to demands made by these groups. It is extraordinary that Turner Prize nominated artists Forensic Architecture learned of the removal of a statement that formed part of their exhibition, Cloud Studies, not from the gallery nor from the University, but from a blog-post by a lobby group called UK Lawyers for Israel.

The issues exposed by this dangerous precedent could not be more critical, since they hit at the heart of the proper functioning of cultural institutions in a democracy. On the one hand, the principle of independence and curatorial integrity of cultural institutions to operate free from interference from lobby groups or vested interests, and on the other, the right of artists to bear witness, including through expressions of solidarity with marginalised peoples.

We understand that the University of Manchester has adopted the use of the ambiguously worded and indeed deeply flawed IHRA definition of antisemitism, despite warnings that it would be used to stifle speech on Israel.   We fear that this shameful act of censorship will serve as a case-study in the institutional confusion the IHRA causes when perfectly legitimate critiques of Israeli policies towards Palestinians are the target of politically motivated complaints.

We note that UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI), who initiated the complaint, is a controversial group that previously hosted far-right settler group Regavim, in the UK. One of its directors, Daniel Berke, represented and has appeared in a video with disgraced anti-Islam activist Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson). Last year, UKLFI was forced to retract false claims made as part of a misinformation campaign that targeted a children’s charity, Defense of Children International – Palestine.

We also note that the lobby group North West Friends of Israel, that also met with the University of Manchester, has sent its members to participate in the annual anti-Palestinian, far-right march through the Palestinian quarter of Jerusalem where marchers routinely smash Palestinian stalls and chant “death to Arabs”.

The University and the gallery profess concern for ‘community cohesion’. How does this square with removing a statement that contained information accepted by all reputable human rights organisations, at the behest of self-selected groups that through their actions endorse intolerance against others and contempt for human rights?

Artists and arts professionals around the world will be aghast at this betrayal of the values which should be embodied by our cultural institutions. We urge you to reverse this wrong-headed act of political censorship.

Yours sincerely,
Sarah Beddington
Miranda Pennell

For the Artists for Palestine UK organising collective

 


3.PSC Statement in an email to its members

University of Manchester must reverse censorship of artists

 

PSC deeply regrets that Forensic Architecture have made the understandable decision to withdraw their exhibition Cloud Studies from the Whitworth gallery. This comes following the University of Manchester’s decision to remove the artists’ accompanying statement of solidarity with Palestinians.

The Turner prize-nominated investigative group of architects, archaeologists and journalists – whose digital models of crime scenes have been cited as evidence at the international criminal court – had opened their exhibition Cloud Studies earlier last month in Manchester. The exhibition is an important look at at how pollution, chemical attacks, and the aftermath of explosions affect marginalised people across the globe. This includes scrutinising the use of teargas and white phosphorus in Palestine.

At the entrance of the exhibition was pinned a note of solidarity stating “Forensic Architecture stands with Palestine”. The artists went on to state “We believe this liberation struggle is inseparable from other global struggles against racism, white supremacy, antisemitism, and settler colonial violence and we acknowledge its particularly close entanglement with the Black liberation struggle around the world.”

Pro-Israel groups objected to the statement’s accurate references to Israeli ethnic cleansing and apartheid, and lobbied the University of Manchester to have it removed on grounds of it being disruptive to Jewish communities in the area.

We must be clear: Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinian communities in 1948, and the ongoing ethnic cleansing today, are undisputed facts. Similarly, the conclusion that Israel’s systemic rule over Palestinian lives meets the legal definition of apartheid has been made by the vast majority of Palestinian civil society, a multitude of legal scholars, and human rights monitoring groups including B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch.

To regard such statements as objectionable denies the right of Palestinians to bring facts of their oppression into the public domain, and the right of others to discuss those facts and advocate for an end to that oppression.

Furthermore, to suggest describing and bringing attention to Israel’s oppression of Palestinians is a manifestation of hatred towards Jewish people demeans the meaning of anti-racism. The citation of the IHRA definition of antisemitism by pro-Israel lobbying groups is further evidence of its usage as a tool to suppress freedom of expression.

It is also worth noting that among those groups lobbying the University of Manchester are North-West Friends of Israel – who sent members to attend the March of Flags in Jerusalem, where far right Israelis march annually through the Palestinian quarters of occupied East Jerusalem chanting “Death to Arabs”. One of the other organisations, UK Lawyers for Israel, also platformed the far right Israeli organisation Regavim in the UK.

PSC will be writing to the University of Manchester asking them to reverse their decision, and to insist that artists must be allowed to express views without political censorship.

**YOU CAN ALSO SEND AN EMAIL TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER BY FOLLOWING THIS LINK TO SEND A TEMPLATE MESSAGE**

 


4. Manchester University puts Palestinian solidarity statement back in gallery

Damien Gayle, the Guardian, 18 Aug 2021

Statement on ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Palestinians reinstated after complaint led to it being removed

The University of Manchester has reversed a decision to remove a statement of solidarity with Palestine’s “liberation struggle” from an exhibition of works by a human rights investigations agency.

Alistair Hudson, the director of the university’s Whitworth gallery, said it was important for Forensic Architecture’s Cloud Studies exhibition “to remain open in full”. UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) responded by saying it was “considering all options”.

A senior university official had previously written to Jewish groups to tell them the exhibition’s opening statement, criticised as “factually incorrect and dangerously one-sided”, had been removed.

Hudson said instead that the Whitworth would provide a space for alternative responses to contextualise the issues raised by Cloud Studies. “It will be displayed prominently in the gallery,” he said.

He added: “The university, as a non-political organisation, has tried to balance extremely complex issues raised by the exhibition, but we believe that the worst outcome for all parties concerned would have been to close this exhibition for an extended period of time.”

The university’s climbdown comes after Forensic Architecture responded to the decision to remove the statement by pulling Cloud Studies “with immediate effect” on Sunday. That day, the gallery tweeted that the exhibition was closed due to “unforeseen circumstances”, and it was not due to open on Monday and Tuesday.

On Wednesday, pro-Palestinian groups staged protests. Manchester Palestine Action said the university had “suppressed the truth about Israel’s war crimes” as its supporters rallied at the Whitworth. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign said it had coordinated 13,000 letters to the university through its online platform.

The impact of war in Palestine was just one of a number of human rights issues examined by Cloud Studies. But a statement pinned to the exhibit’s entrance had specifically denounced Israel’s military operations in Gaza and its “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians.

It said the Palestinian “liberation struggle” was “inseparable from other global struggles”, and particularly the struggle for Black liberation.

In a letter to the University of Manchester last month, UKLFI had said the statement was full of inaccuracies, and that it “seems designed to provoke racial discord” by trying to “falsely equate Israelis with white supremacists”.

The group asked what regard was paid to “the impact of the inflammatory language and representations” in the exhibition on Manchester’s Jewish communities, and warned that the university could be in breach of its public-sector equality duty “to foster good relations between different communities”.

Prof Nalin Thakkar, the university’s vice-president for social responsibility, wrote back to say he understood the concerns around the statement, adding: “We consider it appropriate for it to be removed, which we have now done.”

After the reinstatement, Eyal Weizman, the director of Forensic Architecture, said he had made clear to the university that the equality duty had to include Palestinians.

“The equality duty extends to all communities,” Weizman said. “The effect of the removal of the statement that we have seen on both the Palestinians in Manchester and pro-Palestinian groups is huge, precisely because they were left out of the conversation.”

 

Comments (17)

  • Naomi Wayne says:

    The witch-hunters defeated – this time! Removing part of this exhibition was artistic vandalism, no less than the practice of cutting off a strip from a huge painting produced by an ‘Old Master’, as was not uncommon when their rich owners wanted to get them through the door of a palace.

  • DJ says:

    Marvellous news. A victory against the anti Palestinian bigots. Well done to all those who achieved this. Hopefully this will provide an opportunity to convince the University to ditch the colonial IHRA definition of antisemitism.

  • Dr Rodney Watts says:

    This is truly significant, and we all are delighted. Of course, ‘THE STATEMENT’ should not have been removed in the first place, and the excuse offered in the statement including “extremely complex issues” is disingenuous. NO THE ISSUES ARE NOT COMPLEX. The truth is the truth and only made questionable by the hasbara falsehoods propagated by the likes of the UKLFI, ZF etc. As pointed out above UKLFI along with NWFOI have previous form for association with the far right.
    For the UKLFI to say that the Palestinian statement “seems designed to provoke racial discord by trying to falsely equate Israelis with white supremacists” is an absolutely superb example of truth twisting and turning. Of course not all Israelis are white supremacists, but truth is that a majority are and horrible as it is to contemplate includes family members. I am sure I am not the only one especially delighted that UKLFI have got the kick back. Those who have an interest in education will recall the attempted propagandising of GCSE textbooks by UKLFI and BoD https://www.campain.org/post/pearson-caught-in-middle-east-history-textbook-scandal I am hopeful that the tide has now turned in terms of justice for the Palestinians AND the brave Jewish Israelis who are fighting for justice and equality for all.

  • Stuart Hill says:

    A heartwarming victory.

  • Linda says:

    A wonderful, very welcome outcome!

    Standing up to censorship and organising very effective mass protests reinstates Forensic Architecture’s challenge to oppressive, illegal acts by Israel and the settlers. At the same time, displaying the contrary arguments alongside allows reasonable people to reach their own conclusions about the merits of either case. This is exactly the approach Manchester University – and any university or public institution – should have taken from the start.

  • Tony Burford says:

    Absolutely Brilliant Result.

  • Stephen Richards says:

    “We believe that this liberation struggle is inseparable from other global struggles against racism. white supremacy, anti-semitism & settler colonial violence & we acknowledge its particularly close entanglement with the Black liberation struggle around the world”……..really, who this ‘we’? (unsigned)
    ‘close entanglement (whatever that means) with Black liberation against white supremacy’, looks like somebody is trying to engineer a race war. The genocide in Palestine is not White versus Black & more to do with religion than skin colour. I am a member of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign & believe that promoting a race war is dangerous & self defeating. If you really need a key to aid perception, the answer is usually social class.

  • Philip Ward says:

    This is a good victory, but the claim in the Whitworth statement that the Government is about to extend freedom of speech in universities is utterly laughable. It is about to make practically every reactionary point of view a “protected characteristic” under equality law.

  • John Coates says:

    An excellent outcome.
    A victory for truth and justice.
    And – A spectacular own-goal for UKLFI and other supporters of the Apartheid State of Israel.

  • Martin Read says:

    Wonderful news in bleak times.
    Congratulations to all involved in securing this victory.

  • Chris Proffitt says:

    I am so pleased this exhibition has been reinstated and will make a trip to Manchester to see it. Without the controversy I doubt I would have heard about the exhibition….so silver linings etc. However backs need to watched as these ‘people’ will find a way to propagate there evil mantra’s. What is happening in the Labour Party is a salutary lesson.

  • Rosa says:

    Well done everyone! Every single courteously worded complaint led to victory.

  • George Wilmers says:

    Here is a nice thought experiment, a memorandum for Nancy Rothwell, Nalin Thakkar, and Alistair Hudson:

    Imagine that you had occupied your current posts in December 1938 and that the Whitworth had agreed to host a remarkable and moving photographic exhibition of the recent barbaric events of Kristallnacht in Germany. The display was immediately met with angry protests by lawyers acting for the Anglo-German Fellowship, and some other pro-German organisations, who declared the exhibition to be “a factually incorrect and dangerously one-sided account on an extremely complex foreign policy issue” and demanded that at the very least the descriptive text accompanying the exhibition be withdrawn.

    After further uproar and negotiations you agreed a compromise and issued the following statement:

    “We recognise the concerns raised by Anglo-German Fellowship, in particular about the inclusion of a written statement displayed at the entrance to the exhibition. That’s why the Whitworth has developed a space which gives voice to different perspectives on the issues raised by the exhibition and helps contextualise them. It will be displayed prominently in the gallery.”

    Would you have acted thus? If not, kindly do not invoke the holocaust by way of explanation. In 1938, as at all historical moments, no one could predict the future. That is what gives such moral force to Hillel’s famous interrogative: “If not now, when?”

  • This is a brilliant victory and coming after a similar victory at Stretford High School over the head’s decision to divert money for the relief of Palestinians to the Red Cross.

    Manchester University has form in this regard notably when Marika Sherwood, a Jewish holocaust survivor, had the title of her talk at Manchester in 2017 ‘‘You’re doing to Palestinians what the Nazis did to me’ unilaterally altered and a Chair imposed on the meeting by the university authorities. In that case too the IHRA was the pretext.

    This gives the lie to the argument by Dave Rich of the CST and others that the IHRA has never been used to chill free speech.

    Four years ago Israeli Ambassador and war crimes apologist Mark Regev personally intervened. See

    https://azvsas.blogspot.com/2021/08/solidarity-triumphs-over-manchester.html

    It is to be hoped that this victory will mark the turning of the tide against the use of the IHRA as a weapon of political censorship. It also is evidence of the continued political fall out from Israels attack on Gaza earlier this year.

  • Charlotte Williams says:

    Such a brilliant victory after a principled stand, it gives hope. And the exhibition will now be seen by many more people than it might have been!

  • John Spencer says:

    Israel’s affinity with white supremacists is indelibly inscribed in their agreement to help apartheid South Africa acquire nuclear arms

  • stephen coombes says:

    Can somebody explain to me please, how a University can be Non-Political, thank you.

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