Artist Mike Parr Dropped by Australian Gallery After Staging Piece Referencing Israel and Palestine

Mike Parr, an acclaimed Australian artist, has been dropped by his longtime representative, Melbourne’s Anna Schwartz Gallery. Both the Guardian and the Sydney Morning Herald reported Friday that Parr’s representation deal was ended after he staged a performance that referred to the Hamas attack on October 7 and the current conflict in Gaza.

Photographs of the performance shot by artist Zan Wimberley were posted to her social media Thursday. The images appear to show Parr painting words such as “Israel” and “Palestine” on a wall, and then painting them over in maroon and black. Titled Going Home, the performance was staged on December 2 at Anna Schwartz Gallery, where a multi-part Parr show, “Sunset Claws,” is still ongoing.

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Because the words are layered on top of one another, it can often be difficult to make out the full phrases that Parr scrawled via Wimberley’s documentation. But, according to the Guardian, Parr also wrote the words “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing,” as well as the phrase “Hamas raped women and cut off the heads of babies.” (Israeli authorities have said they’ve gathered significant evidence and testimony that Hamas committed sexual violence during the attack on October 7, which killed 1,200 Israelis and involved the taking of 240 hostages, though that evidence has yet to be released. The latter claim seemingly refers to unverified reports that “40 babies” were beheaded during the attack. An extensive investigation by Israeli newspaper Haaretz published last week found only one case of a baby being killed on October 7.)

“I was sickened by the hate graffiti inscribed on the wall, however I in no way intervened nor censored Sunset Claws, as the full length video of the performance, still playing in the gallery, will attest,” Schwartz said in a statement to the Guardian. “I have always acted in the interest of the artists represented by the gallery and this is the only time an artist has breached my principles of anti-racism.”

Parr told the Guardian, “What Hamas has done in Israel is totally reprehensible and cannot be condoned. But to all intents and purposes 20,000 civilians have now died in Gaza and tens of thousands have been wounded.” He noted that he “abhorred” antisemitism and said that his dealer of 36 years “understands very well the political nature of my performances.”

According to the Gazan Health Ministry, 17,177 have been killed since the October 7 Hamas attack. Over the course of the last two months, Israel has repeatedly led airstrikes and a ground invasion on Gaza.

Anna Schwartz Gallery is one of the most prominent Australian galleries, with Candice Breitz, Angelica Mesiti, Chiharu Shiota, Yinka Shonibare, and more listed as being in its stable. Although Parr still appears on that roster, a pop-up on Anna Schwartz’s website informs visitors that he is no longer represented by the gallery.

Parr is well-known in Australia, where his work has appeared in six editions of the Biennale of Sydney. At the most recent one, in 2022, he staged a 72-hour performance in which he meditated and fasted in the presence of a tree planted at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in the context of a famed Joseph Beuys piece.

Update, 12/11/23, 11:10 a.m.: This article has been updated to clarify details about claims made by Israeli officials surrounding the October 7 Hamas attack.

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