Israel’s National Pavilion Won’t Open Until a Ceasefire Is Reached, Artist Says

Artist Ruth Patir, who was selected to represent Israel last September, said she will not open her exhibition for the country’s national pavilion at the 2024 Venice Biennale until “a cease-fire and hostage release agreement” is reached between Israel and Hamas, the New York Times reports. The Biennale officially begins press previews this morning, with the festival’s public opening launching on April 20.

“I hate it, but I think it’s important,” Patir told the Times. Patir and the Pavilion’s two curators, Tamar Margalit and Mira Lapidot, did not inform the Israeli government of their decision to not open the pavilion in advance, they said. Titled “(M)otherland,” the pavilion was set to feature several new works, featuring computer-generated imaginary; one will still be visible from a window.

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A sign on the Israeli Pavilion, located in the Giardini reads, per the Times, “The artist and curators of the Israeli pavilion will open the exhibition when a cease-fire and hostage release agreement is reached.”

In mid-October, a couple of weeks into the ongoing war in Gaza that has killed more 33,000 Palestinians and were sparked by the October 7 Hamas attack that killed 1,200 Israeli and took 240 more hostage, Israel said that it would proceed with its pavilion, as many in the art world called for the country to withdraw.

Then, in February, thousands of artists signed an open letter calling on the Biennale to cancel Israel’s official participation at the Biennale, writing that “the Biennale is platforming a genocidal apartheid state.” Several artists in this year’s main exhibition were among the signatories. In response, Italian Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano said that the Israel would participate as planned; the government has said that countries officially recognized by Italy are eligible to mount national pavilions.

A withdrawal from a country engaging in an active conflict already had a recent precedent, when Russia pulled its national participation from the 2022 Biennale amid its war in Ukraine; Russia will again not appear in the 2024 Biennale.

Ukraine was able to mount its 2022 pavilion after co-curator Maira Lanko drove most of the work by artist Pavlo Makov that was to be included out of the country amid the early days of the war. The 2024 Ukrainian Pavilion will also proceed, with several artists reflecting on the many realities and perspectives of Ukrainians in and out of the country.

Palestine has never mounted a pavilion at the Venice Biennale, though an official collateral event was staged in 2022 by the Palestine Museum US; an official collateral event will also. The main exhibition of the 2024 Biennale, curated by MASP artistic director Adriano Pedrosa, includes two Palestinian artists among the 331 set to participate: Dana Awartani, Samia Halaby.

Francesco Bonami, the curator of the 2003 Biennale, had proposed including a Palestinian Pavilion during that year’s festival, but he was immediately met with claims of antisemitism and the country did not mount a presentation, though Bonami included a work by artist-couple Palestinian Sandi Hilal and Italian Alessandro Petti in the main exhibition.

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