The head of one of the world’s most prestigious art exhibitions has resigned after this year’s show became embroiled in a scandal over antisemitic imagery.
The 15th edition of Documenta is its largest show to date, curated by the Indonesian collective Ruangrupa. But its long-awaited opening in mid-June was quickly overshadowed by one of the pieces on display: a controversial 8- by 12-foot banner made in 2002 by the Indonesian activist art collective Taring Padi.
Called “People’s Justice,” the work features caricatures of Jewish military figures, including one that wears the SS insignia on a black hat and is depicted with fangs and the sidecurls worn by Jewish Orthodox men. Another figure, a soldier resembling a pig, has “Mossad” scrawled on its helmet.
The large-scale artwork “People’s Justice” by the Indonesian artist collective Taring Padi became the center of a massive controversy for its antisemitic motifs. Credit: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images
Following the removal of the artwork, Taring Padi apologized to the Jewish community, the German public and Documenta attendees.
“The imagery that we use is never intended as hatred directed at a particular ethnic or religious group, but as a critique of militarism and state violence,” the group said. “We depicted the involvement of the government of the state of Israel in the wrong way—and we apologize.”
The artwork was temporarily covered in black cloth before it was removed. Credit: Uwe Zucchi/picture alliance/Getty Images
Remko Leemhuis, the director of the American Jewish Committee Berlin Lawrence, said in an email that the inclusion of “People’s Justice” illustrated that there is a “massive problem” with anti-Semitism in German art and culture as well as on the international stage.
“It is outrageous that the supervisory board in its statement is not expressing one word of regret or issuing an apology to the Central Council of Jews in Germany or the Jewish community in Germany as a whole about the damage this has caused,” he said.
Moving forward, Documenta’s supervisory board recommended that the exhibition “enter a process of consultation” with academic experts who can assess the issues around the current show and “advise in case further antisemitic imagery should come up.”