PSC deeply regrets that Forensic Architecture have made the understandable decision to withdraw their exhibition Cloud Studies from the Whitworth gallery. This comes following the University of Manchester’s decision to remove the artists’ accompanying statement of solidarity with Palestinians.
The Turner prize-nominated investigative group of architects, archaeologists and journalists – whose digital models of crime scenes have been cited as evidence at the international criminal court – had opened their exhibition Cloud Studies earlier last month in Manchester. The exhibition is an important look at at how pollution, chemical attacks, and the aftermath of explosions affect marginalised people across the globe. This includes scrutinising the use of teargas and white phosphorus in Palestine.
At the entrance of the exhibition was pinned a note of solidarity stating “Forensic Architecture stands with Palestine”. The artists went on to state “We believe this liberation struggle is inseparable from other global struggles against racism, white supremacy, antisemitism, and settler colonial violence and we acknowledge its particularly close entanglement with the Black liberation struggle around the world.”
Pro-Israel groups objected to the statement’s accurate references to Israeli ethnic cleansing and apartheid, and lobbied the University of Manchester to have it removed on grounds of it being disruptive to Jewish communities in the area.
We must be clear: Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinian communities in 1948, and the ongoing ethnic cleansing today, are undisputed facts. Similarly, the conclusion that Israel’s systemic rule over Palestinian lives meets the legal definition of apartheid has been made by the vast majority of Palestinian civil society, a multitude of legal scholars, and human rights monitoring groups including B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch.
To regard such statements as objectionable denies the right of Palestinians to bring facts of their oppression into the public domain, and the right of others to discuss those facts and advocate for an end to that oppression.
Furthermore, to suggest describing and bringing attention to Israel’s oppression of Palestinians is a manifestation of hatred towards Jewish people demeans the meaning of anti-racism. The citation of the IHRA definition of antisemitism by pro-Israel lobbying groups is further evidence of its usage as a tool to suppress freedom of expression.
It is also worth noting that among those groups lobbying the University of Manchester are North-West Friends of Israel – who sent members to attend the March of Flags in Jerusalem, where far right Israelis march annually through the Palestinian quarters of occupied East Jerusalem chanting “Death to Arabs”. One of the other organisations, UK Lawyers for Israel, also platformed the far right Israeli organisation Regavim in the UK.
PSC will be writing to the University of Manchester asking them to reverse their decision, and to insist that artists must be allowed to express views without political censorship.