Alistair Hudson has reportedly been asked to step down from his post as director of the Whitworth art gallery in Manchester, UK, after a controversial statement of solidarity with Palestine displayed in an exhibition last year sparked a furore. The show, entitled Cloud Studies, was devised by the investigative agency Forensic Architecture and examined human rights violations linked to air toxicity in Beirut, Syria and Louisiana, US, as well as Palestine.
According to the Guardian, Hudson was asked to leave by the University of Manchester, which runs the Whitworth, following a series of complaints by UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI), an Israel-focused legal organisation. A spokesman for the University of Manchester says: “Staffing matters are strictly internal to the University and we do not comment on questions of this nature, including in relation to our current Whitworth Art Gallery director.” It is unclear also if Hudson will be required to stand down from his other post as the director of Manchester Art Gallery.
The alleged dismissal has prompted a wave of criticism on social media from art professionals. Helen Nisbet, the artistic director of Art Night, said: “Adding my voice to say how hellish this is, and standing in solidarity with Alistair.” Jeremy Millar, a senior tutor at the Royal College of Art in London, said on Twitter: “This is an absolute fucking disgrace—[Hudson] is one of the most interesting and thoughtful museum directors in this country.”
Cloud Studies, which opened on 2 July last year, surveyed instances of chemical attacks and pollution across the world and addressed the use of tear gas and white phosphorous in Palestine. UKLFI tells The Art Newspaper that it particularly objected to the introductory statement in Cloud Studies which included the text: “Forensic Architecture stands with Palestine. While working on this exhibition we witnessed with horror yet another attack by Israel’s occupation forces on Palestinians. Partners and friends in Gaza told us first-hand about their experiences of the attacks that destroyed multi storey buildings, homes, the offices of news organisations, schools, hospitals and businesses.”
UKLFI and a number of Manchester-based organisations that advocate for Israeli causes subsequently met with Nalin Thakkar, the vice-president University of Manchester, who agreed to remove the text in its entirety. This decision prompted Forensic Architecture to pull works from the show in protest. Hudson later announced that the exhibition would reopen "in full" with the text displayed in its entirety. Yesterday he posted an image on Instagram, with a passage by the author Lucia Sanroman that says: “To feel and deal with powerlessness, with trauma.” At the time of publication he had not responded to a request for further comment.
“The work [the exhibition] presented contained serious inaccuracies and no attempt had been made by the gallery to check its accuracy,” says Jonathan Turner, the chief executive of UKLFI. “The claim that Israeli bombing of terrorist targets in the Gaza produced earthquakes and ‘airquakes’ was particularly egregious,” he adds.
Forensic Architecture meanwhile tweeted yesterday: “All members of FA are shocked & enraged at this blatant punishment and vengeful attempt to suppress solidarity with Palestinians who continue to face violent human rights abuses and apartheid by Israel in Palestine and beyond.”