Artist refuses to open Israeli pavilion at Venice Biennale until cease-fire, hostage release

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VENICE, Italy — The artist and curators representing Israel at this year’s Venice Biennale announced Tuesday they won’t open the Israeli pavilion exhibition until there is a cease-fire in Gaza and an agreement to release hostages.

Their decision was posted on a sign in the window of the Israeli national pavilion on the first day of media previews, just days before the Biennale contemporary art fair opens Saturday.

Israel is among 88 national participants in the 60th Venice Biennale, which runs from April 20-Nov. 24. The exhibition in the Israeli Pavilion had been titled “Motherland” by artist Ruth Patir.

There was no immediate comment from Biennale organizers.

Even before the preview, thousands of artists, curators and critics had signed an open letter calling on the Biennale to exclude the Israeli national pavilion from this year’s show to protest Israel’s war in Gaza. Those opposed to Israel’s presence had also vowed to protest on-site.

Italy’s culture minister had firmly backed Israel’s participation, and the fair was opening amid unusually heightened security.

Written in English, Patir’s announcement Tuesday read: “The artist and curators of the Israeli pavilion will open the exhibition when a ceasefire and hostage release agreement is reached.” Two Italian soldiers stood guard nearby.

Adriano Pedrosa, the Brazilian curator of the main show at the Biennale, praised Patir’s choice.

“It’s a very courageous decision,” Pedrosa told The Associated Press. “I think it’s a very wise decision as well” because it is “very difficult to present a work in this particular context.”

The national pavilions at Venice are independent of the main show, and each nation decides its own show, which may or may not play into the curator’s vision.

Palestinian artists are participating in collateral events in Venice and three Palestinian artists’ works are to appear in Pedrosa’s main show, titled “Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere,” which has a preponderance of artists from the global south.

Pedrosa, the artistic director of Brazil’s Sao Paulo Museum of Art, said one of the Palestinian artists, New York-based Khaled Jarrar, was not physically in Venice because he couldn’t get a visa.

The war erupted after Hamas and Islamic Jihad carried out a cross-border attack on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza has so far killed over 33,700 Palestinians, according to local health officials, causing widespread devastation. The United Nations has warned of imminent famine in northern Gaza.

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