Exhibitions Museums Controversies France

Paris show of Palestinian 'martyrs' sparks protests

An exhibition of works by Ahlam Shibli at the Jeu de Paume is proving controversial; gallery denies accusations that it condones terrorism

Ahlam Shibli, Untitled (Death n° 3), 2011-12

After receiving “numerous messages of protest” about the show, the Jeu de Paume contemporary art gallery in Paris has issued a strongly worded statement defending its current exhibition of works by the Palestinian artist Ahlam Shibli (“Phantom Home”, until 1 September). The controversy centres on a new series of images entitled “Death”, which explores how dead or imprisoned Palestinians—called “martyrs” by the artist—are presented in public and private spaces, from home settings to city streets.

According to the French newspaper Le Monde, the representative council of Jewish organisations in France, known as Crif, says that the exhibition is an “apology for terrorism”, and has subsequently raised the issue with the French minister of culture, Aurélie Filipetti. On its website, Crif reiterates that “it abhors both the artist’s, and the Jeu de Paume’s, decision to present terrorists guilty of murder as martyrs”.

The gallery press statement says: “The Jeu de Paume strongly denies accusations that it either condones or is complicit in terrorism.” Shibli adds: “I am not a militant… My work is to show, not to denounce or judge.” The show also includes five other photography series by the artist on the theme of “home”, focusing, for instance, on children raised in Polish orphanages.

The Barcelona-based International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art, known as Cimam, has voiced support for Marta Gili, the director of Jeu de Paume. The organisation released a statement saying: “Art institutions are for freedom, respect and debate; never for repression, violence nor censorship.”

Ahlam Shibli, Untitled (Death n° 33), 2011-12
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1 Jul 13
16:27 CET


I found the work disturbing at MACBA, Barcelona, but I defend the right to show it, and fully support the Jeu de Paume and director Marta Gili. First, the artist has other work of a diverse nature, she is varied and not single-issue. Second, it could be seen as tragic rather than apologetic. It could put Palestinian victimist discourse in a bad light even, depending on your point of view. If I were a moderate Palestinian I might abhor it. Finally, it expresses a real visual typology, an aesthetic in the world, something photographers might seek to identify and make visible. It is part of what they do. As Primo Levi wrote in the Drowned and the Saved, 1986: "In countries and epochs in which communication is impeded, soon all other liberties wither, discussion dies by inanition, ignorance of the opinion of others becomes rampant, imposed opinions triumph…Intolerance is inclined to censor, and censorship promotes ignorance of the arguments of others."

28 Jun 13
15:2 CET


I agree with you totally. If the playing field were even and points of view balanced and counter balanced instead of totally in favor of knee jerk left extreme PC I might consider the merits but one sided has no merits only bias.

27 Jun 13
17:26 CET


If art is truly free from political taint, then why do artists, musicians and others refuse to perform in Israel. Why are Jewish or Israeli professors barred from universities or denied speaking engagements because it might cause a security risk. This show of art is consistent with Palestinian glorification of terrorists. They erect monuments to them, name parks, streets and other public venues in honor of terrorists. They glorify terror itself in anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli schoolbooks. Martyrdom is praised as the highest virtue. That policy and program is the real obstacle to peace in the middle east. This Parisian art show is simply another incident of enabling the glorification of terror by Palestinians.

27 Jun 13
15:51 CET


It's art, people. Art. Not militancy.

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