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February 23, 2022 3:46 pm
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UK Art Gallery Director Asked to Step Down After Controversy Over Exhibit With Anti-Israel Claims

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

The Whitworth Art Gallery. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The director of the UK’s Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery is being asked to step down by the University of Manchester, which runs the gallery, following a controversy last summer surrounding an exhibit that included an anti-Israel statement, The Guardian reported on Tuesday.

The July 2021 exhibit “Cloud Studies,” by the research agency Forensic Architecture, displayed a statement at the entrance expressing solidarity with the Palestinian “liberation struggle” against Israel and accusing the Jewish state of practicing apartheid, ethnic cleansing and occupation. Following complaints from UK Lawyers For Israel (UKLFI), which also released a note pointing out misrepresentations in the statement, it was removed by the gallery.

Forensic Architecture then demanded the exhibit’s closure while its founder, British-Israeli professor Eyal Weizman, expressed concerns about artistic freedoms. Pro-Palestinian groups also protested outside Whitworth and more than 1,000 complaint letters were sent to the gallery. In response, Alistair Hudson, who was appointed director of the gallery in 2018, reopened the exhibit and again displayed the controversial opening statement while also agreeing to display a statement by the Manchester Jewish Community.

UKLFI Director Caroline Turner said on Wednesday that Hudson had “assured the vice chancellor of Manchester University that they had established the accuracy and legalities of the work presented” in the exhibition. However, when UKLFI submitted a Freedom of Information request to the university for details about steps taken to assess the accuracy of the exhibit’s allegations and to comply with public sector equality law, the school responded saying that “no recorded information is held relevant to the specific points raised in your request.”

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In September 2021, UKLFI wrote to the university and suggested that it “should consider appropriate disciplinary action against Mr. Hudson based on the fact that he had assured the Vice Chancellor that they had established the accuracy and legalities of the work presented but the Freedom of Information request showed that no such investigation had been made.”

Weizman praised Hudson and said about his departure: “Alistair turned the Whitworth into an art space where the important questions of our time could be asked. His sacking is the last in series of bullying actions by the University of Manchester, which initially aimed at silencing our solidarity with Palestinians, then at stifling open debate and taming political art more generally. This move will shrink the space for art and artists.”

A University of Manchester spokesperson told The Guardian, “We absolutely uphold academic freedom. Staffing matters are strictly internal to the university and we never comment on questions of this nature.”

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