German photo festival canceled after curator accused of antisemitism

The Biennale für aktuelle Fotografie, a Germany-based exhibition of contemporary photography has been canceled after one of the curators posted content to social media that the German cities of Mannheim, Ludwigshafen and Heidelberg, where the event was set to take place, described it as “antisemitic”. The event was set to open March 2024.

As first reported in the Art Newspaperthe Bangladeshi photojournalist and event co-curator Shahidul Alam posted “content that can be read as antisemitic and antisemitic content,” according to officials, including posts compared Israel’s attack on Northern Gaza to the Holocaust and accused Israel of genocide against the Palestinian people.

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A group of people mounting a scaffold and mounting an image of a boy crying with blood running down his head.  Printed beneath the image are the words 'CAN YOU HEAR US?'  A yellow banner reading 'CEASEFIRE NOW' is also attached.

Authorities in the three German cities said in a statement that their “relationship of trust” with Alam “has been severely damaged” after his posts.

According to the Art Newspaper, organizers from the host city approaching Alam, as well as his two co-curators, Tanzim Wahab and Munem Wasif, to discuss the social media posts “in order to sensitize the curators to Germany’s special historical responsibility for the state of Israel and its right to exists.” Alam continued to share his views on social media. “[He] sees himself as an activist and demands freedom of expression,” the organizers said. For their part, Wahab and Wasif refused to work on the biennial if Alam was barred from participating.

“The consequences of the cancellation for the Biennale für aktuelle Fotografie and the organizing team are far-reaching,” the organizers said. “They jeopardize the future of the entire event. In the time ahead, we will do everything in our power to maintain the Biennale as one of the largest and most important photography events in Germany and Europe in the long term.”

The future of the biennale is further threatened by the announcement earlier this year that the German chemicals company BASF would be withdrawing its sponsorship of the fair.

According to a press release, the cities and the exhibition’s board members are “holding talks with the invited artists, curators and advisors in an effort to find target-oriented solutions.”

Earlier this month the entire selection committee of Documenta resigned, starting with Israeli artist and philosopher Bracha L. Ettinger and Indian poet and critic Ranjit Hoskote. The remaining four members of the selection committee, Simon Njami, Gong Yan, Kathrin Rhomberg, and María Inés Rodríguez, followed suit last week, saying in a statement that “in the current circumstances we do not believe that there is a space in Germany for an open exchange of ideas and the development of complex and nuanced artistic approaches that document artists and curators deserve.”

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