Twenty-five artists and cultural workers who have exhibited at or collaborated with the Zabludowicz Collection have disaffiliated from the contemporary art museum and its project spaces, citing its ties to pro-Israeli lobbying and the Israeli air force.
Today, July 26, they sent individually signed letters addressed to Zabludowicz Art Projects and Zabludowicz Art Trust relaying their decision to “deauthor” work undertaken for the London-based collection, including not only artworks but also screenings, talks, workshops, curatorial initiatives, and other contributions.
The group behind the action, Boycott Divest Zabludowicz (BDZ), was founded in 2014 by an anonymous group of artists and activists. Modeled after movements including Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) and Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), BDZ urges the cultural sector to defund and divest from institutions directly or indirectly involved in Palestinian oppression.
“The aim of this collective action is to use the BDS guidelines to demand the Zabludowicz Art Trust permanently divest from, and fully sever, its ongoing complicit relations with the Israeli state’s policies of apartheid and military occupation, and publicly recognise Palestinian rights,” said a member of BDZ.
Artists participating in the action include Michelle Williams Gamaker, Harold Offeh, Amalia Pica, and Jack Strange, whose works are in the museum’s permanent collection. The complete list of disaffiliating artists includes Sam Cottington, Benedict Drew, Olivia Erlanger, Cécile B. Evans, Jacob Farrell, Gery Georgieva, Anton Haugen, Stewart Home, Item Idem, Jasmine Johnson, Kelly Large, Scott Mason, Uriel Orlow, Rachel Pimm, Hardeep Pandhal, Aura Satz, Abri de Swardt, Ellen Mara de Wachter, Richard Whitby, Laura Yuile, and Gary Zhexi Zhang.
Headquartered in London with exhibition and residency spaces in New York City and Sarvisalo, Finland, the Zabludowicz Collection was inaugurated in 2007 by Anita Zabludowicz and her husband Poju, who founded the pro-Israel lobby BICOM (Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre). A 2013 report authored by researchers at the University of Bath described BICOM as “an opaque organisation that carries out much of its work beyond public scrutiny and accountability” with the goal of “cultivat[ing] elite opinion on Israel.”
The firm, the report continues, was financed through the fortune of Poju’s father, Shlomo Zabludowicz, a prominent Israeli arms dealer who “sold weapons to some of the world’s most repressive regimes over several decades.” Poju is chairman and CEO of his father’s investment company Tamares Group, which holds a stake in Knafaim, the ultimate beneficiary of Maintenance Wings Limited Partnership. The company provides military aircraft maintenance services to the Israeli Air Force.
The Zabludowicz Art Trust is thus “complicit in and reproduces the Israeli-state-led apartheid, which normalises the oppression of Palestinians,” BDZ said in an email. “It is this complicity that must end.”
BDZ has staged a number of protest actions against the Zabludowicz Collection in recent years, launching a petition calling for a boycott of the museum that garnered over 600 signatures. But “the recent violence earlier this year has drawn fresh attention to the Israeli state’s ongoing project of territorial expansion and ethnic dominance,” a member of BDZ told Hyperallergic.
An escalation in the conflict this spring claimed more than 200 lives in Israel and the occupied territories, the majority of them Palestinians killed by Israeli Air Force strikes in the Gaza Strip. According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW), 80% of Gaza’s population depends on humanitarian aid, with the Israeli government limiting access to clean water, medical care, education, and other resources in the region.
In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for the Zabludowicz Collection referred Hyperallergic to a public statement from Anita and Poju published on the museum’s website on May 21. The collectors said they welcomed the ceasefire between Israel and Palestine, announced a day earlier, and expressed their support for “a Two-State Solution that guarantees the rights of Palestinians and Israelis to live and work side-by-side in peace.”
While BDZ acknowledges that “there are many unethical practices within the art sector that should be opposed,” a member told Hyperallergic, “a significant difference is that BDZ, like BDS, is a direct response to a call for international solidarity from Palestinian people living under brutal oppression.”
“The Boycott is not primarily an economic one, although there are of course economic impacts to withdrawing your work or not showing with a gallery; it’s also a cultural boycott in the form of a strike,” BDZ continued. “Accusations which equivocate all money as dirty miss the point that there is a choice when it comes to the nebulous status of artistic labour. The implications of these choices go beyond the foreclosure of the wage-relation, and this is precisely something that artists and cultural workers can do. BDZ would hope that any actions that emerge from this specific campaign are not singular, and don’t end here, as neat as that could be.”
Editor’s note 7/26/21: A previous list of disaffiliated artists cited in an earlier version of this article included Dora Budor’s name in error. This mention has been corrected.