The installation by the Indonesian artists’ collective was only on view at the documenta for a few days – unnoticed at first, “People’s Justice” became a scandal after public criticism of the content, which was criticized as anti-Semitic. Now there are consequences.
The work can no longer be seen, but that does not mean that the debate is over: A heavily criticized installation at documenta fifteen in Kassel was first covered and is scheduled to be dismantled on Tuesday. Now the calls for a reappraisal of the scandal are getting louder.
The large-scale banner installation “People’s Justice” by the Indonesian artist collective Taring Padi shows, among other things, a soldier with a pig’s face. He wears a scarf with a Star of David and a helmet with the inscription “Mossad” – the name of the Israeli foreign intelligence service. After fierce public criticism, it was initially imposed with a black cloth on Monday. On Tuesday, Kassel’s Mayor Christian Geselle (SPD) announced that the banner would be removed.
“I’m angry, I’m disappointed. “Something happened that shouldn’t have happened.” The installation has a clear anti-Semitic connection. The curating collective Ruangrupa had been accused of anti-Semitism for months Since the beginning of the debate, however, the group has always assured that anti-Semitism, racism or violence have no place at the documenta, Geselle emphasized: “In this one case, they obviously did not live up to their responsibility.”
Among others, the support group “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe” called for the dismantling. “Those responsible must ensure that it is worked out how such a picture could be hung up in the first place,” said the chairwoman of the support group Lea Rosh on Tuesday. In reference to the documenta, she spoke of “anti-Semitism with a long message”. For months, those responsible have been asked to “prevent the anti-Semitism that is looming at documenta fifteen. It’s been appeased, ignored and moderated away for just as long.”
Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth (Greens) had also spoken out in favor of removing the controversial banner installation. The work clearly has anti-Semitic elements, she said on Tuesday in Berlin. The mere disguise and the explanation of the artist collective Taring Padi are unacceptable. In addition, it must be clarified how the installation of this picture could have come about in the first place. Those responsible must continue to ensure that no other “clearly anti-Semitic image elements” are shown at the exhibition in Kassel.
The International Auschwitz Committee called for dialogue with the artists. “It is high time to start a conversation at this documenta, to hear the artists from which worldview these pictures were created and to explain publicly on the part of the documenta why these pictures are met with resistance and rejection here,” explained Christoph Heubner , the executive vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, on Tuesday.
Hesse’s Minister of Art Angela Dorn (Greens) sees the scandal as having serious repercussions. “The work of art contains anti-Semitic codes that Jews rightly feel offended by,” Dorn explained. “The damage that has already occurred cannot be put into perspective,” said Dorn on Tuesday. “On the contrary, we have to work through how it was possible for such a visual language to be shown publicly at the documenta.”
The banner was only installed after many journalists and trade visitors had already previewed the documenta – according to the organizers last Friday afternoon. The reason given for the delay: necessary restoration measures due to storage damage. The work was not made for documenta fifteen, but was shown for the first time in 2002 at the South Australia Art Festival in Adelaide.