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Noam Chomsky, Judith Butler and Laurie Anderson Condemn Festival’s ‘Censorship’ of Young Fathers over BDS

The Ruhrtriennale arts festival disinvited the Scottish hip-hop trio for their pro-Palestinian politics, then u-turned

Young Fathers, 2014. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons; photograph: Ash Link

Young Fathers, 2014. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons; photograph: Ash Link

Young Fathers, 2014. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons; photograph: Ash Link

This year’s Ruhrtriennale has been the focus of protests and condemnation after the German arts festival disinvited the Scottish experimental hip-hop trio Young Fathers over their public support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. The Ruhrtriennal later reinvited the Mercury Prize-winning band after an outcry over censoring them for their pro-Palestinian politics.

An open letter signed by 75 celebrated artists and cultural figures has condemned the festival’s decision to exclude Young Fathers. Signatories include musicians Jarvis Cocker, Brian Eno, Patti Smith and Massive Attack as well as the philosophers Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler. ‘We are disturbed by attempts in Germany to impose political conditions on artists supporting Palestinian human rights,’ they wrote. ‘Ruhrtriennale’s earlier decision was a particularly alarming form of censorship, ‘blacklisting’ and repression.’

A separate statement from certain participants at this year’s festival, including Laurie Anderson, Hassan Khan and Jonas Staal, praised the festival for reinviting Young Fathers, but also stated: ‘we reject the idea that institutions, in any way, should have the power to demand of artists to renounce their political principles in exchange for participating in their programmes.’ They confirmed that they would be participating in the festival.

The festival’s artistic director Stefanie Carp initially announced that Young Fathers would be removed from the lineup, citing the band’s failure ‘to distance itself from BDS’ after the Ruhrtriennale had requested them to do so. While Carp said that ‘we explicitly do not conclude from this that the band is anti-Semitic,’ she said that the festival wished to have no connection with the movement.

This was followed by a complete u-turn, with the festival reinviting the band – which Young Fathers have refused. The festival will go ahead with a panel scheduled to discuss the dispute. ‘I do not wish to be part of a campaign, let alone hostage to a campaign,’ Carp wrote.

Young Fathers described the decision to pull their performance ‘wrong and deeply unfair’ and called out the festival’s request to ‘distance ourselves from our human rights principles.’ The Ruhrtriennale is due to run from 18 August to 30 September across various locations in the Ruhr valley, west Germany.

BDS is a global social movement that calls for a boycott of the Israeli state as an act of solidarity with Palestinian civil society, inspired by South Africa’s Anti-Apartheid Movement. Some of its detractors have called the movement antisemitic in its criticism of Israel. Don’t miss curator and critic Galit Eilat writing on the relationship between BDS and the art world, and the effects of boycotts on leading art institutions.

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