Reasons unclear for artists’ withdrawal from Mattress Factory show

Reasons unclear for artists’ withdrawal from Mattress Factory show

A Palestinian artist who was slated to participate with Israeli and American artists in a joint exhibition at the Mattress Factory museum and Filmmakers Galleries told an Arabic news source that the show’s curators “made a final decision to exclude the Israelis from the show” and that the Mattress Factory is in compliance with the terms of the BDS (boycott, divestments and sanctions) movement against Israel.

The Palestinian artists had been accused on an Arabic Facebook page of normalizing relations with Israel after the Mattress Factory and Filmmakers used the words “collaboration” and “dialogue” to advertise the exhibition on their websites, according to Tavia La Follette, the independent curator of the exhibition.

Bashar Alhroub told, an Arabic news source, that after he and the other Palestinian artists were accused of assimilation with the Israelis, the Palestinians refused to participate, resulting in “pressure on administration to correct their error and a final decision not to allow Israeli participation.”

The Alquds article was translated for The Chronicle by Ethan Pullman, a doctoral student who teaches Arabic for the modern languages department at Carnegie Mellon University and the linguistics department at the University of Pittsburgh. He is a native speaker of Arabic.

“The decision was made not to allow them [the Israelis] to participate and to only participate with American artists, fully knowing that the museum does not receive U.S. or Israeli funds or tied to assimilation ideologies in any way but, in fact, complies with BDS terms boycotting Israel,” said Alhroub.

A spokesperson for the Mattress Factory, Samantha Strahota, neither confirmed nor denied the museum’s compliance with BDS but said in an email that Alhroub’s comments “are the opinions of the artist. We have no further comment.”

The exhibition, “Sites of Passage: Borders, Walls & Citizenship,” was scheduled to run at the Mattress Factory from June 1 to July 27 — with a corresponding exhibit scheduled to run at Filmmakers Galleries from June 6 to Aug. 1 — but was canceled on May 29 after the Palestinian artists withdrew from the show.

But La Follette told The Chronicle on May 27 that the Israeli artists voluntarily pulled out of the show first in order to protect the Palestinians whose livelihoods and families had been threatened on Facebook.

La Follette did not respond to inquiries from The Chronicle  following the cancellation of her exhibition.

“The fact that ongoing political conditions do not allow Palestinian and Israeli artists to work together within cultural contexts without misinterpretation and recrimination is regrettable but understandable,” states the “Sites of Passages” website. “This show was never intended to be about normalization (which is the process of accepting an untenable situation as normal); this show is not and cannot be about normalization.”

The Pittsburgh Palestine Solidarity Committee posted a statement on June 3 in support of the artists’ withdrawal from the exhibit.

The statement accuses Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and the denial of basic civil and human rights to Palestinians. “Israel’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for more land and water resources is satiated only by house demolitions, the expropriation of large tracts of farm land and racist laws designed to place the Palestinians in an untenable situation,” the statement avers. Equating Israel to “apartheid South Africa,” the PPSC calls BDS a justified non-violent means “by which the world can pressure Israel to change its course.”

The ultimate blame for the cancellation of the Mattress Factory exhibit lies with Israel and not with the BDS movement, according to the PPSC.

“It is within this context that the Mattress Factory exhibit, featuring American, Palestinian and Israeli artists, has been canceled,” the PPSC’s statement claims. “Both the Mattress Factory and the Pittsburgh Filmmakers released statements identifying the exhibit as one of collaboration between the artists.

However, each artist worked independently. After meeting with the Palestinian artists this week, it is our belief that they began their work on this project in a spirit consistent with BDS but withdrew due to their concern that the exhibit, in its entirety, may run afoul of the BDS movement. While The Chronicle article (‘Israeli/Palestinian show canceled amid Arab threats,’ May 28) clearly blames the show’s cancellation on the ‘Arabs,’ Palestinian artists and the boycott movement, the real blame lies squarely with Israel’s continued systematic human and civil rights abuses.”

(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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