Fog and rain over Cloud Studies at the Manchester International Festival

JVL Introduction

Manchester International Festival has established a reputation of being, in the words of the New York Times, “One of the leading worldwide incubators for new, cutting-edge art.”

It’s 2021 incarnation contains a rich array of exhibitions, installations and events.

One of these goes by the name Cloud Studies. Made by Forensic Architecture it has been running since 2nd July at the Whitworth. It is scheduled to run till 17 October.

But UK Lawyers for Israel have taken objection to it and filed a complaint with the vice-chancellor of Manchester University, which own the gallery.

The claim concerns the “impact of the inflammatory language and representations contained in the exhibition [might have] on the Jewish people in Manchester” (despite the fact that it clearly hasn’t aroused any antisemitism reported anywhere – nor why on earth should it?)

You can read about their objections in a Jewish Chronicle article reposted below.

But before getting to that, here is some information about Forensic Architecture and the exhibition in question.

Forensic Architecture was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2018. You can read an interview with its founder Eyal Weizmann in the Architects’ Journal in April 2018 called Forensic Architecture: using technology to expose injustice (free registration required). In it Adam Branson “finds out about how it uses pioneering architectural techniques to uncover the truth behind crimes and human-rights violations”.

The MIF website and the Forensic Architecture website both describe the current exhibition in this way:

Tear gas clouds spread poison where we gather, bomb clouds vaporise buildings, chemical weapons suffocate entire neighbourhoods and air pollution targets the marginalised. Our air is weaponised. Our clouds are toxic.

From Palestine to Beirut, London to Indonesia and the US–Mexico border, Forensic Architecture investigate, explore and expose how power reshapes the very air we breathe in this urgent and compelling exhibition.

Cloud Studies includes the first phase of a major new Forensic Architecture investigation, commissioned for the Festival by the Whitworth and MIF, on environmental racism along the banks of the Mississippi in Louisiana. Here, majority-Black communities whose ancestors were enslaved on these grounds breathe the most toxic air in the US – leading to the region’s nickname, ‘Cancer Alley’.

Forensic Architecture is a research agency of architects, artists, filmmakers, journalists, lawyers, scientists and software developers that investigates state and corporate violence. Cloud Studies is their first exhibition in Manchester.

There are links on the Forensic Architecture website to two videos they have produced; one called Cloud Studies , the other Environmental Racism in Death Alley, Louisianna

It has a Content warning: The following films contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.

We’re unable to embed them here, but you can find them easily on the MIF exhibition webpage.

The exhibition looks at air pollution in various parts of the world, including a section on what it says are the toxic environmental effects of Israel’s military action in Gaza and the West Bank.

It is introduced with these words:

Top gallery accused of hosting ‘hate-filled’ exhibit

Jenni Frazer, the Jewish Chronicle, 3rd August 2021

The exhibition looks at air pollution in various parts of the world, including a section on what it says are the toxic environmental effects of Israel’s military action in Gaza and the West Bank

The Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester has been accused of hosting a “hate-filled” art show on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The exhibition, titled Cloud Studies and created by Forensic Architecture, a research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London, purports to detail the environmental effects of Israel’s military action in Gaza and the West Bank – as well as looking at “toxic clouds” in places such Indonesia, Argentina, Hong Kong, the UK, US, Mexico, Turkey, Lebanon.

Visitors are shown an opening statement headed “Forensic Architecture stands with Palestine”, and can then browse films and displays that show how “tear gas, bomb clouds, chemical weapons… suffocate entire neighbourhoods and air pollution targets the marginalised”.

Language used in the exhibition includes phrases such as the Palestinians’ “struggle against apartheid” and the problem of “settler colonial violence”.

One visitor to the Whitworth told the JC: “I don’t remember experiencing anything so hate-filled in an art gallery. The information is totally decontextualised and there is no mention of Hamas or the reasons for the conflicts”.

UK Lawyers for Israel have written to the vice-chancellor of Manchester University — to which the Whitworth belongs – reminding it that the gallery is “legally bound by the Public Sector Equality Duty”.

The lawyers said they were concerned about “the impact of the inflammatory language and representations contained in the exhibition on the Jewish people in Manchester”.

Eyal Weizman, the Israeli-born director of Forensic Architecture (FA), which devised the exhibition and accompanying film, defended the show.

He told the JC that it was “correct” that the exhibition made no reference to Hamas or its sustained rocket attacks on Israel. “We did not report on the rockets, nor did we report on the reason that the rockets were fired, in the dispossession of Palestinian families in Jerusalem and the tear gassing of al Aqsa Mosque”, he said.

Responding to the charge that the content of the exhibition could ramp up hatred against the Manchester Jewish community, Mr Weizman said: “I disagree with those that say so: like anti-Palestinian racism, we oppose and condemn antisemitism, and wrote it in our statement”.

Whitworth director Alistair Hudson was not available to respond to the JC but told complainants in an email he was presently involved in “the acquisition of a body of works by the American Jewish artist Linda Stein”.

Raphi Bloom, co-chair of the North West Friends of Israel, said Mr Hudson’s response was “just another version of ‘some of my best friends are Jewish’.”

Mr Hudson came under fire last month after the gallery posted a statement on its website expressing solidarity and support for “decolonisation” in Palestine. He apologised for the post.

Mr Weizman added that “as a Jew”, he believed that the work done by Forensic Architecture did “more to dispel prejudice and hatred, including that against Jews, than an unqualified support of apartheid in Palestine…I hope that one day you would come to support, and even be proud of, those of us promoting such values in Palestine and elsewhere”.

Mr Bloom pointed out that the exhibition’s reference to “occupied Gaza” was incorrect: Israeli forces pulled out of the Strip in 2005. Mr Weizman argued: “By most international legal opinion, including that of the UN, the Gaza Strip is still under occupation.”


Comments (4)

  • Naomi Wayne says:

    Ten years ago, I graduated with a degree in Ceramics from Westminster University (which had incorporated the former Harrow School of Art). My degree show exhibit included Mahmoud Darwish’s poem ‘Identity Card’, mounted on a set of ceramic objects I had made (chairs, as it happens), reflecting symbolically on the lives of Palestinians since the Occupation. The show was staged in a gallery on the Marylebone Rd owned by the University, and open to the public. On the second day, one of the tutors told me the University had received a complaint about my exhibit – and had made it clear to the complainant that they regarded my work as a legitimate example of artistic reflection. I trust the Director of the gallery in Manchester sends the same message to these so-called ‘Lawyers for Israel’!!

  • John Bowley says:

    This is almost unbelievable. They want to shut down all opinion but theirs.

  • Allan Howard says:

    Yes John, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they are ‘generating’ more anti-semitism than they are deterring!

    Oh well, at least it was only ‘one visitor’ who accused the gallery of hosting a hate-filled exhibit! Could of been worse and been TWO visitors!!

  • Alan Stanton says:

    It’s entirely believable. And for supporters of Zionism also very stupid. Added to which it is a betrayal of fundamental values which Forensic Architecture (FA) advocates. And last but not least, another example of the pernicious practice of censorship by complaint and fear.

    The stupidity is easily seen. How many people have heard of Forensic Architecture? How many more people will hear about them now?
    I’ve been following and praising their work for several years. But aware that people I speak to may not share my excitement. Probably due to my poor explanations. Or it might just be the somewhat puzzling name.

    But now? Some old-style crass crude bullying censorship may do the publicity job far better!

    The values of Forensic Architecture? Read what they say. Better still look at their case studies online. (For free.) I have no connection with FA. But I live in Tottenham and was a Labour councillor for the local ward for sixteen years. I do care about the truth of how Mark Duggan was killed. A death which led to the Tottenham Riot (a short walk from my home). So Forensic Architecture’s detailed and evidence-based report helps take me and anyone else nearer the truth of that sequence of events.
    If people are willing to click on a video.

    My third point: pernicious censorship by complaint and fear? That’s obvious to Many JVL members and readers. But perhaps the full monstrosity of the smearing by complaint may not be widely appreciated. Anyone can now secretly or publicly denounce anyone else.
    I use the word ‘denounce’ very deliberately.
    And in both the Labour and LibDem Parties denunciation can be anonymous. It’s a poisonous and dangerous game everyone can play. Which dissolves decency and rots Civil Society. The rights of victims vanish.

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