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Banning pro-Palestine films slammed 'racist drift in a pernicious structure of censorship'

A documenta poster hangs in front of the pillars of the Fridericianum during the opening day of the Documenta 15 modern art fair on June 18, 2022 in Kassel, Germany. [Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images]
A documenta poster hangs in front of the pillars of the Fridericianum during the opening day of the Documenta 15 modern art fair on June 18, 2022 in Kassel, Germany. [Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images]

Directors and artists have condemned the decision to suppress the viewing of pro-Palestine films during Documenta 15, a contemporary art exhibition held in Kassel, Germany. The festival, which runs through the summer and is expected to close at the end of this month, has been engulfed by a row over the censorship of pro-Palestine movies.

An advisory group responsible for overseeing programming at the festival recommended censoring a series of films about Palestinian solidarity, according to the Art Newspaper. The series, Tokyo Reels, is a set of restored films by the cinema research and production collective known as Subversive Film. The collective aims to shed light on "the overlooked and still undocumented anti-imperialist solidarity between Japan and Palestine."

The advisory council said in a report that the work is "pro-Palestinian propaganda… made between the 1960s and the 1980s". Calling it "highly problematic", the panel said the film is "filled with antisemitic and anti-Zionist set pieces" that are presented as objective fact.

The move was, however, condemned by both the curatorial group behind the series, the Indonesian collective ruangrupa, and the Finding Committee for the Artistic Direction, which selected ruangrupa as curators. Documenta 15's artistic direction committee released a statement yesterday in which they expressed solidarity with the curators.

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"The pressures that media and politicians have placed on the entire Documenta team have become unbearable," said the statement. "We believe their voice [ruangrupa] should also be heard. We applaud the artists who have been resilient in the face of attacks on their integrity and have remained true to the principles of lumbung," the statement continued.

More than 100 individuals in Documenta 15's condemned the report by the advisory group claiming the films are anti-Semitic and slammed the crackdown. "This report represents a new line crossed, and we categorically refuse it" said the letter condemning the advisory group. "This line marks a racist drift in a pernicious structure of censorship. We denounce the vicious attempt at censoring the presentation of the Tokyo Reels."

A spokesperson for Documenta, is reported in the Art Newspaper saying that "ruangrupa, as the artistic directors of documenta 15, have the sole right to decide and do not wish to follow the recommendation to temporarily remove the work Tokyo Reels by Subversive Film from the exhibition."

Allegations of anti-Semitism have plagued Documenta 15 since January, when German media and local politicians began taking issue with the pro-Palestine and pro-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) stances of a number of participants in the exhibition.

Many German institutions and groups have adopted the highly controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish racism. Last week a German court ruled that the sacking of Palestinian journalist using IHRA was unlawful.

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