Kassel on Monday evening: The large banner of the artist collective Taring Padi is wrapped
Photo: IMAGO/Peter Hartenfelser / IMAGO/Hartenfelser
The director of the Anne Frank educational institution, Meron Mendel, asked those responsible for the world art exhibition in Kassel on Monday to remove a contribution by the Indonesian artist collective Taring Padi because of anti-Semitic motifs.
The Israeli embassy in Berlin reacted with outrage.
There were demands for resignation.
Finally, on Monday evening, the banner was covered.
While the critics were unanimous that anti-Semitic imagery could be seen in some of the depictions on the large banner, the Documenta management spoke more cautiously in a press release of a »character depiction in the work ›People's Justice‹
(2002) by the collective Taring Padi, which offers anti-Semitic readings.
Together with the management and the artistic direction, the collective decided to cover up the work in question on Friedrichsplatz and to install an explanation.
Taring Padi described the banner installation as "part of a campaign against militarism and the violence we experienced during the 32-year Suharto military dictatorship in Indonesia and its legacy, which continues to have an impact today".
The depiction of military figures on the banner refers to symbolism that is widespread in Indonesia's political context.
The corrupt administration, the military generals and their soldiers are symbolized as pigs, dogs and rats to criticize an exploitative capitalist system and military violence.
Among other things, a soldier with a pig's face could be seen on the large banner.
He wears a scarf with a Star of David and a helmet with the inscription "Mossad" - the name of the Israeli foreign intelligence service.
Detail of the now veiled work of art
Photo: IMAGO/Peter Hartenfelser / IMAGO/Hartenfelser
The "People's Justice" banner has been issued several times, first in 2002 in Adelaide, Australia, Taring Padi explained.
But the exhibition on Friedrichsplatz in Kassel is the first presentation of the banner in a European and German context.
Taring Padi is committed to supporting and respecting diversity.
The content of the group is not aimed at "representing any population groups in a negative way", the "visual vocabulary in the works" is "culture-specifically related to our own experiences".
"People's Justice" is in no way connected to anti-Semitism, the collective emphasized: "We are sad that details of this banner are understood differently than their original purpose.
We apologize for any injuries caused in this context.« The artists regret that the work »which is considered offensive in this special context in Germany« is now being covered, but see it as a sign of respect.
Meanwhile completely covered large banner
Photo: Swen Pförtner / dpa
The work will now "become a memorial of sadness at the impossibility of dialogue at this moment," the Taring Padi statement said.
One hopes that the memorial will be the starting point for a new dialogue.
Auschwitz Committee: »Desolate Developments«
Christoph Heubner, Executive Vice-President of the International Auschwitz Committee, also expressed hope for a dialogue with the artists: »It is high time to start a conversation within the framework of this documenta, to hear the artists, from which world view these pictures are taken were created and to explain publicly on the part of the Documenta why these pictures are met with resistance and rejection here,« says Heubner.
Holocaust survivors are currently following the "desolate developments" surrounding the Documenta "with disbelief and resignation."
The "humiliating portrayal of Jewish people" on the exhibited drawings is fraught with anti-Semitic clichés that remind Holocaust survivors "of times when they were rejected and hunted down with similar drawings."
Anti-Semitic imagery with SS runes
Photo: Andreas Fischer / epd
Heubner accused the political and artistic participants of having displayed an "inability to talk" in the preparation of the show, which "has now led to a totally muddled and undignified situation" that "tragically will produce nothing other than new anti-Semitic and anti-Israel clichés in the minds of many people: the Jews as perpetual troublemakers and bullies at Documenta 15.«
Documenta director: "Get external expertise"
Sabine Schormann, general director of the documenta, has also come under criticism, and calls for her resignation have already been made.
In the press release, Schormann emphasized that the management of the Documenta is "not an authority that can and must not have the artistic exhibits submitted for inspection in advance".
Regarding the fact that the »People's Justice« banner had not yet been seen during the press viewing days last week, Schormann explained that the banner was installed on Friedrichsplatz last Friday afternoon »after necessary restoration measures due to storage damage on the 20th year-old work were carried out«.
The Documenta director expressly points out that the work was not conceived for Kassel and the Documenta, but was created in the context of Indonesia's political protest movement.
"Everyone involved regrets that feelings were hurt in this way," says Schormann: "Together we decided to cover up the banner.
In addition, we obtain further external expertise.«