If proof was needed that art can have a political effect, it has now been provided. Whether they have something cause can, is another question.
The 100-hour Hannah Arendt reading, which the Cuban artist Tania Bruguera initiated on Wednesday evening at the Museum für contemporary art Hamburger Bahnhof, was disrupted by a pro-Palestinian group on Saturday lunchtime and evening. Those involved shouted anti-Semitic slogans such as “From the River to the Sea Palastine will be free”, hurled terms such as genocide and shouted “Shame on you” at individuals.
The fact that the artist stopped the reading of Arendt’s analysis of totalitarianism on Sunday morning was justified insofar as the safety, especially of the Jewish participants, was at stake. On the other hand, such a confrontation was almost to be expected. And also that a discourse would then be difficult to establish.
The activists who appeared on Saturday were not interested in dialogue. They imposed their black and white logic on everyone present: either on the side of “the Palestinians” or on the side of the “Zionists” who “kill Palestinian children and civilians.”
The group also complained that there was too little space for Palestinian voices in German cultural institutions. Maybe that’s true. However, the group itself was probably registered for the reading and therefore had room for their position. The fact that she only used it to defame did the Palestinians a disservice. Who can listen?
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Bruguera’s aim was to create a political space with the continuous reading, in the sense of Hannah Arendt, a space in which different opinions can be heard. Before the performance, the artist expressed the hope that the action could reflect the political mood in the country. That’s exactly what happened. When it comes to Israel and Palestine, the signs in Germany point to hatred. You have now seen that, but you already knew that beforehand.
It is right that the Hamburger Bahnhof opens its house for political debates and it should continue to do so. However, there is a complete lack of recipes for how to deal with escalations – and not just in this cultural institution. A single artist, even with the support of the board of directors and friends, is naturally overwhelmed.
The directors of the Hamburger Bahnhof Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath remained very general in their description of the attacks on their social media channels; there was talk of hatred and a “political group”. They were widely criticized for this in the comments. Even when asked, they stick to “insults and verbal attacks against individuals, the institution and the state”.
The comment function on her Instagram channels has now been deactivated. According to the museum organizers, it is no longer possible to guarantee that the channel will be communicated in a factual and respectful manner. What remains are hardened fronts, individual against individual, group against group, no appeal to politics. Similar to what Hannah Arendt describes in her works.