Israeli artist shuts Venice Biennale exhibit, calls for Gaza cease-fire

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Israeli artist shuts Venice Biennale exhibit, calls for Gaza cease-fire
Work by the artist Ruth Patir, Israel’s representative at the Venice Bienalle who says she won’t open her show in the national pavilion until Israel and Hamas reach “a cease-fire and hostage release agreement,” is installed inside the pavilion in Venice, Italy on April 15, 2024. Though the doors will be closed, visitors will still be able to see parts of Patir’s video pieces through the pavilion’s windows. (Matteo de Mayda/The New York Times)

VENICE.- Since February thousands of pro-Palestinian activists have tried in vain to get the Venice Biennale, one of the world’s most prestigious international art exhibitions, to ban Israel over its conduct of the war in the Gaza Strip.

But on Tuesday, when the Biennale’s international pavilions open for a media preview, the doors to the Israel pavilion will nonetheless remain locked, at the behest of the artist and curators representing Israel.

“The artist and curators of the Israeli pavilion will open the exhibition when a cease-fire and hostage release agreement is reached,” reads a sign that the Israeli team taped to the door of the pavilion.

“I hate it,” Ruth Patir, the artist chosen to represent Israel, said in an interview about her decision not to open the exhibit she has been working on, “but I think it’s important.”

She said that while the Biennale, which opens to the public Saturday, is a huge opportunity for a young artist like herself, the situation in Gaza was “so much bigger than me,” and she felt that closing the pavilion was the only action she could take.

Although many Israelis share Patir’s desire for a cease-fire and hostage deal, a call for a cease-fire from an artist representing the country at an important international event could draw criticism from Israeli lawmakers, said Tamar Margalit, an Israel pavilion curator who reached the decision with Patir and Mira Lapidot, another curator of the pavilion.

Israel’s government, which has paid about half the pavilion’s costs, was not informed in advance about the protest, Margalit said. The Israeli Culture Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment Tuesday.

Margalit said visitors would still be able to see one of Patir’s video pieces through the pavilion’s windows. For that piece, Patir used computers to animate images of ancient fertility statues, which are a recurring motif in her work. The female statues, many cracked or missing limbs, come to life in the film and move around, wailing with grief and anger.

Patir said the artwork, finished this month, reflected her sadness and frustration over the conflict. The emotions depicted in the film “felt accurate to the experience of living in this moment,” Patir added.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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