St. Louis Art Center Shutters Pro-Palestine Exhibition After Accusations of Antisemitism

A St. Louis art center is facing criticism for closing an exhibition after deeming several pro-Palestinian works on display were antisemitic.

The works were by artists Dani Collette and Allora McCullough, who were selected by the Craft Alliance, an exhibition and gallery space, for an 11 month artists-in-residence in July 2023. The residency provided the artists with shared studio space, a stipend, a tuition waiver, and the opportunity to organize an exhibition.

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The exhibition, titled  “Planting Seeds, Sprouting Hope”, opened on June 21 and was planned to run through July 20, however shortly before its debut, two pieces by Collette were pulled from display allegedly without the artists’ knowledge: a glass bowl adorned with a keffiyeh print, titled Symbol of Solidarity, and several watermelon-shaped pieces carved with the phrase “Land Back”, a phrase broadly used by Indigenous, decolonization movements to demand the return of settler-occupied land. 

Additionally, several title cards for Collette’s works were removed, including those for the artworks Indigenous to Palestine and From the River to the Sea, the latter being a slogan historically used by supporters of Palestinian statehood. 

“I showed up and my artwork was gone, and my titles were gone, which I think is an incredibly disrespectful and aggressive stance to take without any sort of discourse or effort at discourse,” Collette, an artist of Indigenous descent, told St Louis Public Radio. She added that her intention with the phrase was to “have a discourse about the positive way in which Palestinians/Gazans are using it. I have a firsthand account from a Palestinian person who informed me that when they use it, it’s a call for freedom, equality and peace for all inhabitants ‘From the River to the Sea’, including Jews and Israelis.”

Craft Alliance did not respond to ARTnews‘s request for comment at press time.

On June 24, Craft Alliance wrote on Facebook and Instagram that it had decided to remove the show as artworks and titles contained “antisemitic slogan[s] and imagery” that called for “violence and the destruction of the Jewish state of Israel.”  Speaking to St Louis Magazine, Bryan Knicely, executive director of the Craft Alliance, said he knew the show’s “broad themes” but not its “specifics” until 45 minutes before the opening, when a Jewish volunteer described its contents as offensive.

“While we are saddened by this situation, and for the artists, we are following policies and procedures for the concern and safety of our staff, volunteers, members, donors, students and patrons,” Knicely said. “Most organizations who work with artists to display political work conduct significant pre-work to educate staff, patrons and children—especially children and their parents. These artists did not provide us with an opportunity to provide education to the community in any meaningful way. Finalizing a political exhibition hours before it opens is careless and these artists left the burden of public interpretation up to our staff and volunteers.”

The artists, however, claim that while they may have delayed finalizing the details of the show, the alliance team was informed of its anti-genocidal conceit two months ago, and they had shared the titles of the artworks a day prior to its opening. 

“I wish that more people were open to the idea of art spaces being a safe space for discourse, and that sometimes discourse is a little uncomfortable, but it should never be violent,” said McCullough. “I think that the reaction of removing my livelihood and removing Dani’s work, specifically her Indigenous work, are violent actions.”

St. Louis’ Fifteen Windows Gallery, meanwhile, has offered to host the exhibition starting on July 13, with a talk by the artists planned for August 10. 

Accusations of artists or cultural workers being censored after speaking out on Palestine and Israel have spiked dramatically in the United States and Europe since the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 and subsequent ground and aerial assault of Gaza by Israel.  In May, a new online database, the Art Censorship Index, was released to track and map such incidents in the United States.


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