The Cloud Studies exhibit at the Whitworth Gallery is to re-open “later this week” after being temporarily closed to the public following a disagreement between the exhibit’s creators Forensic Architecture and the gallery over the removal of a statement expressing solidarity with Palestinians during the latest round of military attacks on Gaza.
The last few days have been hectic for the Whitworth, which announced on Twitter on Sunday 15 August that the exhibit was to be closed. The Guardian on Monday revealed that the closure was precipitated by the gallery removing the solidarity with Palestine statement from the entrance to the exhibition. The gallery removed the statement following a campaign, and subsequent meeting with UK Lawyers for Israel, who said the exhibit was “incendiary and by its very nature one-sided”.
The British-Israeli director of Forensic Architecture, Eyal Weizman, learned of the statements removal via a post on UKFLI’s website. “As our work seems to have been compromised despite our strong objections, we demand that our exhibition is closed with immediate effect,” Weizman told the gallery, according to the Guardian.
Forensic Architecture are a Turner prize nominated investigative group and their latest Cloud Studies exhibit has been on show at the Whitworth since 2 July as part of MIF21. The exhibit illustrated how clouds created by chemical attacks, pollution and explosions adversely affect communities across the globe. From the descendants of slaves in Louisiana, who are breathe in clouds of carcinogenic pollution from petro-chemical factories in “Cancer Alley” along the Mississippi River, to Palestinians in Gaza subject to conventional explosives and white phosphorus incendiary munitions.
Weizman said of the university’s decision to remove the statement:
“I’m stunned that the University of Manchester forced the removal of our ‘solidarity with Palestine’ statement which forms part of our exhibition.
“The statement refers to well-documented realities in Palestine, endorsed by major human rights groups. That the University of Manchester did so following the pressure from a self-appointed lobbying group known to platform the extreme-right settler movement in Israel disregard well-accepted principles of academic and artistic freedom and is an affront to the principles of human rights, in Palestine and elsewhere, that FA’s exhibition promotes.”
The “extreme-right settler movement” Weizman refers to is Regavim, who UKLFI hosted at an event staged in London, which was blockaded by British Jews opposed to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.
A post on the UKLFI website on Sunday 15 August stated: “We are pleased that following our representations, The Whitworth Art Gallery has removed the written statement by Forensic Architecture”, and stated that the campaign cricritical of Cloud Studies was also supported by the Manchester Jewish Representative Council, the North West Friends of Israel and the Manchester Zionist Central Council. This post was updated on 17 August to indicate their displeasure at the gallery, which is part of the University of Manchester, and its change of stance:
“Manchester University wrote to North West Friend of Israel on 13 August 2021, stating that Forensic Architecture’s introductory statement had been removed by the Gallery and that a review would be undertaken of governance arrangements around the approval of new artistic content.
“According to media reports, Forensic Architecture responded by demanding the removal of the whole exhibition. Apparently in response to this demand from Forensic Architecture, on 17 August 2021, Manchester University reneged on their decision to remove the introductory statement from the exhibition.”
A statement released today by Alastair Hudson, director of the Whitworth Gallery, said that after considering the complex issues, with widely different views exhibited across different communities, they had concluded last night that:
“…it is important for the exhibition to remain open in full at the Whitworth and we expect this to occur later this week. The University, as a non-political organisation, has tried to balance extremely complex issues raised by the exhibition, but we believe that the worst outcome for all parties concerned would have been to close this exhibition for an extended period of time.
“The exhibition, expresses the views of the contributing artists, who have perspectives that come from their own experiences and the experiences of the communities and organisations who commission them. They do not necessarily represent the views of The University of Manchester and have been strongly contested by some. The case studies address complex international issues.
“The Whitworth is mindful of artistic freedoms and the various duties which apply across the work of the gallery, including rights around freedom of speech and expression and academic freedom. These rights must be considered alongside other rights and obligations, including those under equality laws as well as reflecting on the challenges of such deeply divisive issues as those covered by the exhibition.
“Importantly, the Cloud Studies exhibition is shown in the protective and academic environment of a University gallery, and within the context of a history of art that has always encompassed provocation and challenge. Museums and galleries have traditionally been a space of experimentation and challenge, and the Whitworth is a place where we may be able to debate, discuss and disagree well, within a safe and empathetic environment… “
Hudson’s statement suggests that the exhibit would keep the original “solidarity with Palestine” statement and that the re-opened exhibition would provide a space to give voice to different perspectives on the issues raised by the exhibition, and that these perspectives would be displayed prominently in the gallery.
The Whitworth and the University of Manchester will also be undergoing a review of its governance, Hudson stated, which is due to the governments proposals to expand the rights of freedom of speech and expression and academic freedom amongst the higher education sector, and not as a consequence of the issues raised during discussions of the Cloud Studies exhibition.
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Featured image : Conrad Bower