London gallery cancels anti-Putin exhibition after artist posted her grief about October 7

Hackney gallery decision reminded Russian-Israeli artist of her grandfather’s experience as a Jew under Stalin


Some of the textile pieces in Pomidor's "Speech(less)" collection which were due to be exhibited in Metamorphika Studio in London for the first time this week

A London art gallery cancelled an exhibition by a Russian anti-Putin group on its opening day after one of its members who lives in Israel expressed grief for those murdered on October 7 shortly after the attack.

Metamorphika studio in London pulled a show by Pomidor - comprised of artists Maria and Polina - after receiving complaints about two of Maria’s Instagram posts made a month after October 7, in which she remembered the Israeli victims of the Hamas attack.

The gallery said their decision was not because of Maria’s Israeli nationality, but because she had not said anything about Palestinian deaths in Gaza and added that the gallery stands against “Israel Zionism”.

Maria, 43, told the JC after the cancellation: “I was very surprised, I cannot believe this has happened to me."

Pomidor’s show, titled “Even Elephants Hold Elections,” is about political prisoners in Russia and confronts political repression in Russia.

Maria, who has been working as an artist for over a decade, explained that Pomidor was called to the gallery in Hackney for an “urgent meeting” on July 3, the morning of their opening.

“They said in a message that they had received a lot of concern about our behaviour on social media. It was surprising because we had not posted anything, we were busy setting out the exhibition and had no idea what was wrong,” Maria said.

“We came in the next morning to the gallery, and they showed me my posts [on Instagram] which were posted almost a year ago in October. They said it was wrong that I support Israel.”

Maria, who moved to Israel with her three children in 2022, spent much of the first three weeks of the war sheltering under a staircase, as rockets flew into southern Israel from Gaza.

She told the gallery, “It was no wonder I support Israel, I live there, I live in Ashkelon, which had a lot of bombing.”

According to Maria, the gallery owners seemed “understanding and sympathetic” when she explained her experience but told her the cancellation was final: “They said this is how it is and they cannot do anything.”

Maria had offered to take her name off the show, so that her colleague, Polina, who lives in London, could take the credit, but Metamorphika had refused, she said.

The incident reminded the Russian Israeli of stories she heard from her grandfather.

“I have heard about such things from my grandfather. My grandparents had to hide that they were Jewish in Russia during the war and had to change their names. When some of my grandfather's relatives moved to Brazil he had to burn all of their letters in case he was considered a spy. This is very similar.”

Maria said the experience has left her feeling less safe in London.

The exhibition forms part of a larger project by the artist duo titled “Speech(less)” which seeks to explore censorship in Russia.

"Censorship is one of the main topics of our works – and now we have been censored,” Maria said.

“We as artists should be left to work in peace,” she went on, adding, "What was surprising was that this exhibition had nothing to do with my Israeli origin, it is about political prisoners.”

The gallery, which describes itself as “an artist-led, community-driven arts space,” first approached the duo about the exhibition over a year ago. Maria said that the gallery always knew she was from Israel, “I told them in the beginning.”

A statement about the cancellation shared on the gallery's Instagram explained, “Whilst we value [Pomidor’s] courage and the importance of derived work under abusive ruling, we believe that this understanding of brutality and violence shouldn't stop at one country's borders.”

The statement said the “systematic oppression and violence of Israel Zionism has led to the perpetual brutality of Palestinians and their land.

“As a coalition of artists, founders, and more, we believe in the freedom of occupied Palestine. And we ask our collaborators and artists to condemn oppression in its all geopolitical contexts without exemptions.”

The gallery said that some members had shared concern about posts made on Maria’s personal Instagram, “taking a position on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Palestine”.

The gallery said, “Whilst everyone is entitled to their beliefs and points of views, so are we. As a space we have been standing with Indigenous people, opposing settler colonialism, and fighting for the rights of Palestinian people from the very beginning. Therefore, our decision to cancel a show has nothing to do with one's nationality or identity, but a two polarized understanding of repression [sic].

“As a team we have decided not to engage with artists who stay neglect the death of over 35,000 Palestinians, widespread of famine, water contamination, spread of diseases and more.”

Maria said that during the meeting in which the exhibition was cancelled, the gallery managers looked “nervous”.

“I do not think they had anything against us and loved our art. They received so much pressure the day before from the community that they decided to choose the community and not us,” Maria went on.

The other half of Pomidor, Polina, posted on Instagram, “The curators themselves saw [Maria’s Instagram posts] and had no objections. Then something happened and the exhibition was cancelled on the opening day. We have one question: why were we allowed to put in so much effort only to have it cancelled the opening day?”

Polina said it was “embarrassing” contacting the attendees of the exhibition to ask them not to come and Maria added that the artwork, which is mostly textiles, was still in place behind the locked doors of the gallery.

The artist duo has exhibited around the world, but their show at Metamorphika was their debut exhibition in London and they are keen to find another space for their work in the capital city.

The show will travel to Canada later this month for an exhibition and Maria and Polina, who both have global talent visas, will continue to create artistic responses to the authoritarian regime in Russia.

Metamorphika has been approached for comment.

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