More than 20 artists, including Oscar Murillo, Helen Cammock and Heather Phillipson, have pledged to withdraw their works from the forthcoming British Art Show 9 (BAS9) due to be held in Manchester this spring following Alistair Hudson’s alleged forcing out from his post as the director of the Whitworth art gallery. The Manchester leg of the show is scheduled to open across four venues (HOME; Manchester Art Gallery; Castlefield Gallery; the Whitworth; 13 May-4 September).
According to the Guardian, Hudson was reportedly asked to step down from his post after a 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.
It has been reported that 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. It is unclear where this leaves Hudson, who has not responded to a request for comment, while the university maintains that “staffing matters are strictly internal to the university”.
In a tweet posted by the Turner prizewinning artist Tai Shani—who is also among those withdrawing—the BAS9 artists say that “in solidarity with the ongoing liberation struggle of Palestine and Palestinians living under the Israeli occupation; in support of political freedom, and artistic expression in cultural institutions and universities across the UK, as BAS9 artists we have decided to pull our work out of the exhibition’s iteration in Manchester unless meaningful reparative measures are taken”. The 21 artists named in the tweet also include Lawrence Lek, Celia Hempton and Paul Maheke. The Art Newspaper understands that two other artists have since withdrawn including James Bridle.
In another tweet, the signatories state that they condemn the “university’s capitulation to continued UKLFI demands, particularly in the spaces we often work… truth needs to be made public and cultural spaces have to remain open for difficult discussions.” The university has not responded to a request for comment.
The British Art Show, which is organised by the Hayward Gallery in London, takes place every five years; this year’s edition includes works by 47 artists encompassing several new commissions. “The exhibition is structured around three main themes; healing, care and reparative history; tactics for togetherness; and imagining new futures,” says the BAS9 website.
A Hayward Gallery touring spokesperson, says: "We're having an open discussion with British Art Show 9's artists, and curators Irene Aristizábal and Hammad Nasar, to decide next steps for Manchester."
UPDATE: A Manchester University spokesman says: "We would like to address the explicit criticism in the coverage that the university has in some way suppressed academic and artistic freedoms, particularly in relation to the Cloud Studies exhibition by Forensic Architecture last year.
"We refute such claims entirely; indeed the university went to great lengths to ensure that the Cloud Studies exhibition remained open for the full period that had been planned. The university’s position was clearly articulated in a statement that accompanied the exhibition."