Italy's culture minister defends Israeli participation at Venice Biennale amidst protests

A building with writing Biennale is surrounded by a smoke effect in view of the 58th Biennale of Arts exhibition in Venice, Italy, on 7 May 2019.
A building with writing Biennale is surrounded by a smoke effect in view of the 58th Biennale of Arts exhibition in Venice, Italy, on 7 May 2019. Copyright Credit: AP Photo
By AP
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Notable signatories of the open letter calling to exclude the Israeli national pavilion include 2023 Turner Prize winner Jesse Darling and Faisal Saleh, the director of the Palestine Museum US.

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Thousands of artists, curators and critics have signed an open letter calling on the Venice Biennale to exclude the Israeli national pavilion from this year’s contemporary art fair due to the war in Gaza. 

But Italy’s culture minister has firmly backed Israel’s participation.

The online letter has been backed by more than 17,000 people, including current and past Biennale participants as well as winners of the Turner Prize, a prestigious annual prize presented to a British visual artist.

Italian Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano expressed solidarity with Israel in a statement Tuesday, saying it “not only has the right to express its art but has the duty to bear witness to its people precisely in a moment during which it was struck hard by merciless terrorists.”

The statement also emphasises that any attempt to threaten "freedom of thought and creative expression in a democratic and free nation like Italy is unacceptable, as well as shameful."

Is there a double standard in the Biennale's response to the Israel-Palestine conflict?

A Palestinian flag is waved in front of the Colosseum, during a rally in support of the Palestinians in Rome, 13 January 2024.
A Palestinian flag is waved in front of the Colosseum, during a rally in support of the Palestinians in Rome, 13 January 2024.Credit: Gregorio Borgia/AP

The open letter, created by an ad-hoc group called “Art Not Genocide Alliance,” noted that the Biennale had discouraged South Africa’s participation due to the apartheid state from 1950-1968 and put a ban in place after the U.S. resolution suspending “exchanges with the racist regime” until apartheid ended. 

It also noted the Biennale’s support for Ukraine since the 2022 Russian invasion. Russian artists withdrew their participation in 2022.

“The Biennale has been silent about Israel’s atrocities against Palestinians,’’ the letter said. “We are appalled by this double standard.”

Signatories include the 2023 Turner Prize winner Jesse Darling, who participated in the 2019 Biennale, as well as Faisal Saleh, the director of the Palestine Museum US who said a proposed exhibit for this edition was rejected.

Israel is among 88 national participants in the 60th Venice Biennale of contemporary art, which is set to run from 20 April  to 24 November. 

The exhibition in the Israeli Pavilion is titled “Motherland” by artist Ruth Patir.

Palestinian artists are participating in collateral events, and will appear in the main show, titled “Foreigners Everywhere” curated by Adriano Pedrosa, the artistic director of Brazil’s Sao Paulo Museum of Art.

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