Morocco's anti-Israel lobby objects to Tel Aviv-born, New York-based artist in biennial
Marrakech Biennale’s bridge-building ethos tested by protests over Keren Cytter’s inclusion
By Julia Michalska. Web only
Published online: 20 February 2014
The inclusion of an Israeli artist at the Marrakech Biennale next week is stirring up controversy in Morocco. Keren Cytter, a 37-year-old video artist born in Tel Aviv who now works in New York, is due to take part in the fifth edition of the biennial “Where Are We Now?” (26 February-31 March) alongside 42 other local and international artists. But her presence has drawn the ire of “anti-normalisation” initiatives in Morocco. For many Arab activists, “normalisation” refers to open relations with Israel in any field, including culture.
“The official programme of the festival introduces Keren Cytter as an artist from Tel Aviv, which means that she comes from a Zionist occupied body, and inviting her is a ‘normalisation’ [with Israel] and a crime,” Azziz Hanawi, the secretary general of the Moroccan Observatory Against Normalisation, told the Moroccan newspaper Al-Akhbar Al Yaoum. The movement also called upon supporters to stage a sit-in outside biennale venues and for the Moroccan artists included in the exhibition to protest against Cytter’s inclusion.
“Obviously, the biennial’s mission to build bridges between cultures is more relevant than ever,” said Vanessa Branson, the founder and president of the Marrakech Biennale, in a statement. As a biennial based in Morocco, it celebrates “the plurality of its roots”, she says, and it believes in choosing artists based on their merits. “Keren Cytter is participating in this biennale as an individual speaking from her own personal perspective.”
Alya Sebti, the artistic director of the biennial, says, “We hope that this controversy will not monopolise the dialogues leading up to and during the biennial. We look forward to the conversations inspired by the central question of this edition of the biennial, and we are proud to include Keren Cytter, like all of our artists.” Due to a lack of funding, this could be the biennial’s last edition, according to Sebti.
The controversy comes at a time when the Moroccan parliament is reviewing a proposed bill to outlaw “normalisation” with Israel. If passed, the bill would criminalise all forms of contact with Israel by Moroccans. It is backed by a coalition of five parties including the Justice and Development Party (PJD), which is currently in power.
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