Pittsburgh art exhibit canceled after Palestinian artists threatened, pull out

(JTA) — An art exhibition in Pittsburgh featuring the work of Israeli, Palestinian and American artists was canceled after the Palestinian artists withdrew from the show.

“Sites of Passage: Borders, Walls & Citizenship,” scheduled to run at Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory museum from June 1 to July 27, was the culmination of a joint multimedia project begun a year ago by the artists, the Jewish Chronicle reported.

The Palestinian artists pulled out of the show on May 29, a day after the Israeli artists had canceled their participation in order to allow the Palestinians to continue participating and to protect them from threats and criticism on an Arabic-language Facebook page, Tavia La Follette, the independent curator of the exhibit, told the newspaper.

La Follette said the use of the words “collaboration” and “dialogue” as part of the descriptions of the exhibit were the triggers of the criticism, since the words mean different things in the realms of the art world and politics.

“The Palestinian artists said, ‘We can’t be in this show,’ so the Israelis withdrew,” La Follette told the newspaper. “The whole idea behind the project was to move it beyond political rhetoric. But we need to protect the Palestinian artists. It shows the integrity of the Israeli artists that they pulled out of the show.”

The artists traveled together last year in the West Bank.

One of the Palestinian artists, Mohammed Musallam, in a Facebook post written in Arabic blamed the city’s “Jewish lobby” for the cancellation of the show.

“It became clear to us that what we considered victory, eliminating Israelis from the exhibit, will be harshly used by the media against Palestinian artists, creating accusations against them and fictional accounts,” he wrote. “Because of these developments in the situation and concerned that the exhibit will continue with its Israeli and American participants, and feed additional lies and stories from the Zionist media in this state, we asked the museum’s management not only that we withdraw, which was easy, but strongly demanded the abolition of the entire exhibit, with the understanding that we are willing for future collaborations without any Israeli participation.”

Following the withdrawal of the artists, sponsors the Mattress Factory and Pittsburgh Filmmakers published an apology: “The exhibition ‘Borders, Walls & Citizenship’ has been canceled. Palestinian artists Bashar Alhroub, Manal Mahamid and Mohammed Musallam have withdrawn their participation.

“The [Mattress Factory] [Pittsburgh Filmmakers] and guest curator Tavia La Follette would like to make a public apology to all Palestinians everywhere for the misunderstanding of this exhibition.”

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