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US museum postpones Islamic art exhibition over fears of ‘unintended insensitivity’ amid Gaza genocide

November 2, 2023 at 4:32 pm

People carrying Palestinian flags and banners gather for a demonstration in support of Palestinians with the call of the non-governmental organization “American Muslims for Palestine” (AMP) despite the heavy rain in Lafayette Square across from the White House, Washington, United States on October 14, 2023 [Celal Güneş – Anadolu Agency]

The Frick Pittsburgh museum has postponed an upcoming Islamic art exhibition, citing concerns that it “risked trivialising Islamic culture at an extraordinarily complex time” and could be a source of “unintended insensitivity or offense” and a “distraction,” reported the Independent.

The decision comes as Israel continues its relentless bombardment of civilians in the besieged Gaza Strip, following the Palestinian resistance operation Al-Aqsa Flood on 7 October. The Israeli military’s aggression against Gaza has now included a limited ground invasion. Since the occupation state launched its genocidal war against Gaza, over 9,000 people have been killed and 32,000 people have been injured.

statement by the museum says that the “Treasured Ornament,” a travelling exhibition showcasing ten centuries of Islamic art “was planned years in advance. At the time of scheduling, it would have been impossible to predict that war would erupt in the Middle East during the time of this show, prompting widespread heartbreak and mounting social tension.”

“At the core of the Frick’s mission is sharing art, history and nature that create experiences of discovery, inspiration and learning that bring people together and enrich our lives and the cultural fabric of our region,” it added before stating that in its current form, the exhibition “lacked sufficient historical and cultural context” and that it “lacked participation from the regional Islamic community and others.”

According to the Art Newspaper, Treasured Ornament: 10 Centuries of Islamic Art was to feature “ancient and modern Islamic glassware, ceramics, metalwork, painting, weaponry and more, which the Frick said in a 3 October press release sought to invoke “the rich history of the Islamic world and the shared human experiences that bind us.”

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Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that the exhibition had been “quietly postponed” and quoted museum Director Elizabeth Barker as saying the decision was made over concerns that it might be hurtful to the Jewish community and others.

“When war broke out in the Middle East, we were as heartbroken as everyone, and we realised that we were about to open an exhibition that a forgiving person would call insensitive, but for many people, especially in our community, would be traumatic,” said Barker.

However, on Monday Christine Mohamed, the executive director of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights group, said: “It’s disheartening to witness such insensitivity when blanket statements are made about an entire religion, particularly when they have the potential to incite harm in the Pittsburgh Muslim community.”

“We cannot overlook the trauma and suffering experienced by the Palestinian people, with more than 8,000 lives lost, including almost 4,000 innocent children. The extent to which this tragedy is overshadowed underscores a troubling lack of empathy and humanity—something that even the most forgiving person would find deeply disturbing.”

In response to CAIR’s comments, Barker said in an interview with WESA that: “This postponement was never intended to be a political statement. At the core of the Frick’s mission is sharing art, history and nature that create experiences of discovery, inspiration and learning that bring people together and enrich our lives and the cultural fabric of our region.”

Adam Hertzmann, the spokesman for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, told WESA: “Equating Islamic art and Muslims in general with Hamas is certainly biased and is certainly something we’re against.”

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