Israeli artists shutter Venice Biennale pavilion until ceasefire and hostage deal

The delegation representing Israel at the art fair will not open their show in protest at war


Artists and curators representing Israel at this year's Venice Biennale will not open their exhibit until a ceasefire in Gaza and a hostage deal is announced (Photo: AP)

Artists and curators representing Israel at the Venice Biennale art fair – a major event dubbed “the Olympics of the art world” – are refusing to display their work until a ceasefire and hostage deal has been announced.

A sign on the front of Israel’s pavilion in the public gardens of the international art event stated: “The artist and curators of the Israeli pavilion will open the exhibition when a ceasefire and hostage release agreement is reached”, while the exhibit itself is fronted by three armed Italian military guards. 

Israeli artist Ruth Patir said: “I hate it... but I think it’s important.”

Patir told the New York Times she was hopeful that a deal would emerge before the event is due to officially open on Saturday, and at the very least before the Biennal ends on 24 November. 

“I believe we will open it,” she insisted.

Last September, Patir was selected by a committee of Israeli art professionals to represent the country at the fair.  A month later, Hamas attacked Israel.

Patir said she could not imagine “that we would be in Venice in April with the hostages still in captivity, with the war still raging”. The Israeli delegation decided to cancel the opening party, make art in response to the war, and shut the pavilion down if the conflict was ongoing.

The controversy around Israel’s inclusion at Venice began in February when the activist group Art Not Genocide Alliance published an open letter controversially demanding a ban on Israel's participation, suggesting the country’s exhibit would be a "Genocide Pavilion".

Throughout the furore, Patir remained silent and worked on her pieces for her show, which is called “Motherland.”

Patir is in her late thirties and a carrier of the BRCA2 gene, which increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The state provided her with free fertility treatment, and her work depicts her fertility journey.

Curator Tamar Margalit said visitors would be able to see one of Patir’s video pieces through the pavilion’s windows. The two-and-a-half-minute film depicts animated images of ancient fertility statues. The cracked, broken female statues will come to life and cry.

Patir told the New York Times the work reflected her sadness over the conflict and “felt accurate to the experience of living in this moment.”

Some of the broken figurines are decapitated and have damaged breasts. Another curator, Mira Lapidot, said: "We think about what women are going through in a war like this, where they are the first to pay the price. The hostages are still in Gaza, and the thought of what they are going through there does not let up and arises when you look at the march of the women, of the broken figurines.”

This week, Lapidot told Haaretz that she was outraged by the exclusion of artists because of their national identity: “We believe that artists should not be silenced. We are going to set up the exhibition with the thought that it's a platform from which to make a voice heard."

Patir also said, “I firmly object to cultural boycott”. 

Lapidot continued: "I'm not a government spokesperson, and the task we were chosen for is not a public relations task. We have artistic freedom here. There is a tension between the desire to continue creating and exhibiting art and the demand for us to speak not about the art but about Israel and the war."

"We all felt that after October 7 there was a polarization in the art world."

Lapidot added: "Over the years, in both museums, my professional experience has taught me that Israel faces international difficulties and it is not an easy task to deal with."

"We don't define ourselves as victims, but with all due respect to the Biennale, the real pain and difficulty are elsewhere [...] And the Biennale puts us in the eye of the storm,” the curator went on.

The Israeli delegation’s decision to close the pavilion could draw sharp criticism from the Israeli government, which paid for about half of the exhibiting costs and was not informed in advance about the protest.

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