Italy’s culture minister responds to petition that calls for the “exclusion of Israel from the Venice Biennale”

Open Letter

Italy’s culture minister responds to petition that calls for the “exclusion of Israel from the Venice Biennale”

La Biennale di Venezia (Naturpuur/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0)

A petition is circulating that calls for the state of Israel to be excluded from the 2024 Venice Art Biennale. Days after the open letter’s release, Italy’s culture minister Gennaro Sangiuliano affirmed that Israel will be able to display a pavilion at the Venice Biennale, according to reporting in The Washington Post.

Of the 17,018 signatories of the petition as of press time, 723 are self-described as architects, landscape architects, or architecture students. Prominent names include Anne Holtrop, Samia Henni, Bz Zhang, Caitlin Blanchfield, Dimitra Andritsou, Fadi Shayya, Hamed Bukhamseen, Hiba Shahzada, Ilze Wolff, Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, Joseph Grima, Lluís Alexandre Casanovas Blanco, Nora Akawi, and Nick Axel. Artists that signed it include photographer Nan Goldin and Turner Prize winner Jesse Darling. 

The petition was authored by members of the Art Not Genocide Alliance (ANGA). ANGA describes itself as “an international group of artists, curators, writers, and cultural workers who have come together to call for the exclusion of Israel at the Venice Biennale.”

The petition says: “As the art world readies itself to visit the Giardini’s nation-state diorama, we say platforming art representing a state engaged in ongoing atrocities against Palestinians in Gaza is unacceptable.”

In a statement titled “No to Intolerance, Yes to Israel,” Sanguiliano, Italy’s culture minister and a member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s cabinet, said: “My deepest solidarity and closeness goes to the state of Israel, its artists and all its citizens. The Venice Biennale will always be a space of freedom, meeting and dialogue and not a space of censorship and intolerance. Culture is a bridge between people and nations, not a dividing wall.”

The impetus behind ANGA’s call for Israel’s exclusion is a recent court ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which affirmed that it is “plausible” that Israel is perpetrating acts that violate the Genocide Convention. The court stated that it cannot make any definitive claim but that it had a responsibility to “protect Gaza’s population from further risk of genocide,” according to NPR. The court also stopped short of issuing a call for ceasefire. Currently ceasefire talks are underway with representatives from Israel, Egypt, Qatar, and the U.S. As reported in Time, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, over 29,000 Palestinians have been killed since October 7, 2023.

ANGA argues that there is precedent for taking the action its petition suggests. Between 1950 and 1968, the apartheid state of South Africa was “discouraged from exhibition and sidelined” by the Venice Biennale. Then in 1968, South Africa was issued an official ban based on UN resolution 2396 which mandated the suspension of “exchanges with the racist regime.” South Africa wasn’t readmitted to the Venice Art Biennale until 1993, when apartheid rule in the country was abolished. 

The participation of countries at both the art and architecture biennales varies with current events. This spring will mark the second art biennale without Russia’s participation. The event will also move forward without an official entry from India, a country that is home to nearly 18 percent of the world’s population.

ANGA defended its goal of removing Israel’s participation by arguing that leading international, Palestinian, and Israeli human rights groups have stated that Israel has created a “cruel system of apartheid.” ANGA further notes that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip was deemed illegal by the UN Resolution 242 of November 1967.

Adriano Pedrosa is the curator of the 60th version of the prestigious art biennale. As announced in official biennale press materials, Israel’s pavilion is curated by Mira Lapidot and Tamar Margalit and will feature work by film director Ruth Patir. Titled Motherland, the work will deal with Patir’s “highly personal experiences of egg-freezing into the restoration process of an ancient fertility figurine.” 

The curators of Israel’s pavilion defended their work last fall, writing that the effort could be a “pocket for art, for free expression and creation, amidst everything that’s happening.” ANGA responded that “art does not happen in a vacuum (let alone a ‘pocket’), and cannot transcend reality. Euphemisms cannot erase violent truths.”

No mention has been made of how the ongoing conflict may affect other biennale efforts in Venice, including the 2025 Architecture Biennale, which will be curated by Carlo Ratti.