Design Collective to Close Exhibition at London’s Barbican Centre After ‘Anti-Palestinian Censorship’

Following a controversy over what it called “anti-Palestinian censorship,” the Resolve Collective will deinstall its exhibition currently on view at London’s Barbican Centre.

The collective’s exhibition, titled “Them’s the Breaks,” spans 295 feet and includes a library, a workshop, a stage, and more. In the British press, the show had received praise for the way it imploded the boundaries between art and design in service of community engagement.

“It is a collaborative show, alive with the multiplicity of voices, hands and ideas that have shared in its making,” wrote critic Nana Biamah-Ofosu in the Guardian. “This diversity in actors is a key aspect of the collective’s work. For Resolve, it is in the practice – the action, the formation of networks, communities and collaborations, that new institutions are created.”

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On Wednesday, the design collective said on Instagram that the decision was due in part to an incident involving Radio AlHara, a Palestinian online radio station that said last week it was urged by Barbican officials to “avoid talking about Free Palestine at length” during a talk there. Although the Barbican apologized to Radio AlHara, Resolve said other factors had moved the collective to pull the show.

Those factors, the Resolve statement said, “included: hostility towards close family and friends at the exhibition opening; heavy handed and overly-suspicious treatment when entering our exhibition with a group of other Black and Brown artists; and being publicly deprecated whilst ushered out of our exhibition space at the end of Gut Level’s Cute and Sexy North rave on Saturday 3rd June (whilst the exhibition’s curator and producer remained inside).”

Resolve said it would immediately halt all programming related to the show, titled “Them’s the Breaks,” and then remove all material in the galleries, leaving them empty by June 26. It would then lead a series of “Closing Down Sales” of those materials that would start on July 3.

In a statement, Claire Spencer and William Gompertz, CEO and artistic director of the Barbican, respectively, acknowledged that Resolve had been “subject to a number of unacceptable experiences” and said they were “fully supportive” of the collective’s decision.

“A great deal of work has already gone into building a new culture at the Barbican in which all our people, and those who we work with, are valued, supported and feel they belong,” they wrote. “It’s clear we have a lot more work to do, but we are committed to making the Barbican a place that is inclusive, welcoming, and safe for everyone.”

Resolve’s show was in part a meditation on prior controversies that have afflicted the Barbican in the past few years. In 2020, the Barbican, which also hosts musical events and theatrical productions, faced an outcry after workers of color claimed they had experienced racism while employed there. Akil Scafe-Smith, one of Resolve’s members, told the Guardian that the show was intended to conjure a place that existed beyond art institutions and that Resolve had created the show as a “metaphor for working within the cracks.”

In other ways, the current controversy also recalls similar ones that have plagued a spread of art events across Europe, where artworks by Palestinian artists have sometimes incurred pushback. This was most notably the case at last year’s Documenta in Kassel, Germany, where the presence of Palestinian artists and a perceived lack of Israeli ones led an appointed committee to state that there was “Israel-related anti-Semitism” in the show, echoing some conservative politicians who had made related pronouncements.

Resolve said that it had chosen to remove the show because “each time we exhausted ourselves to forgive, unsee, or rationalise these experiences, we were left without solace and with Zora Neale Hurston’s words unheeded: ‘if you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it’.”

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