The Museum Folkwang in Essen, Germany, has canceled part of an exhibition devoted to Afrofuturism due to guest curator Anaïs Duplan’s pro-Palestine social media posts.
Duplan received an email from museum Director Peter Gorschlüter one day after a member of his curatorial team, Studio AGD, had traveled to Essen to assist with installation of the “Afrofuturism” section of the We is Future exhibition, set to open on November 24. In his message explaining the decision to scrap the part of the show curated by Duplan, Gorschlüter wrote that some of the posts the curator had commented on and shared on his Instagram account were “unacceptable” because they “do not acknowledge the terroristic attack of the Hamas and consider the Israeli military operation in Gaza a genocide.”
Duplan shared screenshots of Gorschlüter’s cancellation email on Instagram moments after receipt, stating that he and his studio team were “speechless.”
Citing the German Parliament’s opposition to the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement in 2019, Gorschlüter said in the email that it could look like the museum supported “antisemitic tendencies” and voices that questioned Israel’s right to exist. The director then indicated his desire to showcase some of the curated works in a different section altogether.
In an interview with Hyperallergic, Duplan and his studio team members, Zoe Butler and Folaṣade Adesanya, shared that the timeline of the cancellation was “very disorienting” as Adesanya had already flown to Essen and interacted with museum staff about the show prior to the email, and all of the included work was in the museum’s possession.
“I had been posting about this for weeks,” Duplan said. “So if there was an issue with it, why wait until one of us was on site to inform us? The museum had paid for the travel and accommodations, too, so it’s just a strange moment.”
In response to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, a spokesperson for the Museum Folkwang said, “On 10 November, a post appeared on [Duplan’s] account calling for support for the BDS network. The German Bundestag has categorised this network as anti-Semitic. The Museum Folkwang has therefore decided to end its collaboration with Anaïs Duplan. This decision was made neither for artistic-curatorial reasons nor because of the exhibition’s theme, but solely because the curator personally takes sides with the BDS campaign, which questions Israel’s right to exist.”
Duplan and his team were dismayed by the museum’s characterization and the lack of space for nuanced dialogue.
“We all work on a project called the Center for Afrofuturist Studies, and we have literally disinvited guests for antisemitic statements,” the curator explained. “Having been in [the museum’s] exact position before, I think the lack of conversation and lack of any effort to really frame a dialogue around antisemitism, around Israel, and around Palestine feels really repressive.”
Consisting of three sections, the We Is Future exhibition aims to showcase alternate means of co-existence informed by historical and contemporary ideologies surrounding nature and human innovation. Studio AGD shared that most of the artists featured in the canceled section have requested that the museum return their works rather than showcase them in a different part of the show. Butler and Adesanya told Hyperallergic that the experience of curating Afrofuturism within the museum’s desired parameters coupled with the subsequent cancelation solidified the team’s general discomfort throughout the last year.
Butler said that the museum had shrunk the “Afrofuturism” chapter’s exhibition space three times, resulting in the team having to cut out an artist and multiple works it had already committed to, and Adesanya noted that the museum was adamant about “showcasing Afrofuturism in a way that they articulated,” repeatedly underscoring themes of hopefulness and equality.
“The museum really asked us to water down our ideas about how we define Afrofuturism and its relationship to liberation,” Butler continued. “As a team, our position on freeing Palestine is also tied to our relationship to Afrofuturism. The museum’s decision makes a lot of sense in that context, but I’m just really surprised that it would put Folaṣade in such an uncomfortable position.”
Studio AGD is currently exploring options for restaging the Afrofuturism section on their own terms down the line, and hopefully including work from other artists who have been suppressed in a similar manner for their stances.
The Museum Folkwang’s decision comes as Germany cracks down on what it considers antisemitism as artists and scholars demand a ceasefire in Gaza following the Israeli military response to the Hamas attack on October 7. Earlier this week, Indian curator Ranjit Hoskoté resigned from the finding committee for the German exhibition Documenta 16 after he was accused of antisemitism for signing a petition drawing parallels between Zionism and Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) in 2019.