May 28, 2022
To Dr. Johan F. Hartle, Rector, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, and Karola Kraus, General Director, Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation;
This Thursday I was honored to speak as part of the “Spring Curatorial Program 2022: Art Geographies” conference, a program, which, at its core, seeks to reexamine the way maps—both topographic and ideological—operate within the contemporary art world. I found the organizers from Verein K and the program participants all to be deeply committed to challenging the exclusionary politics that have dominated aspects of the art world, and the conversation following my lecture was both invigorating and encouraging.
Yesterday, I spent the morning at Kunsthalle Wien to see “Defiant Muses. Delphine Seyrig and the Feminist Video Collectives of 1970s and 1980s France.” The show was fierce, fearless, and, in many instances, heartbreaking, as one was forced to reckon with how little true systemic change has been effected in the past few decades. Perhaps the most painful aspect for me was to observe the conviction and passion with which Seyrig spoke, with which she used her visibility to advocate for those who had been repeatedly denied a voice. While it should have been inspiring, all I could think about was how the dominant tone in today’s political discussions seems to be resignation. Yes, there is rage too, but it seems to be a rage that can’t imagine the possibility of change.
It is exhausting (and yes, also enraging) to find ourselves in a position where institutions discriminate in the name of anti-discrimination. Simply put, to equate the advocacy for equal rights for Palestinians with anti-semitism is violence.
Anti-semitism should never be taken lightly, but this is true of any form of discrimination or oppression. To use preemptive charges of anti-semitism to enact oppression on others, however, is violence. To silence an established academic and scholar because of her nationality is racism. (And let’s be honest: there was no due process here.) To facilitate this kind of preemptive censorship is cowardice. In cancelling the lecture of Walaa Alqaisiya, the Academy of Fine Arts has committed exactly the kind of discriminatory act that they profess to be condemning. Theirs is a racist, violent, cowardly act that betrays the good faith in which my colleagues and I agreed to participate in this conference.
Fellow participants like Françoise Vergès have already expressed themselves more eloquently. At this point, I must say that I am tired. I am tired of how these things need to be handled “delicately.” I am tired to think that an institution committed to the education of art students–future generations of writers, thinkers, curators and critics, among them—would conduct itself with such flagrant prejudice and cowardice. Dr. Alqaisiya is owed an apology, at the very least, but this institution needs to publicly make it clear to their students, faculty, and staff where they stand on discrimination and racism, as an institution that truly has the values the Academy professes would not conduct itself in such a way. Period.
I also expect a statement from mumok, who agreed to host these talks, also perhaps in the same good faith that the Academy intended to live up to the promises in the conference’s framing as an explicitly feminist and decolonial endeavour, committed to tackling exactly this kind of discrimination on an institutional level.