Two-note solution for furore over Forensic Architecture’s Palestinian solidarity statement at the Whitworth

Forensic Architecture, Cloud Studies (installation view, Whitworth Gallery, Manchester). Courtesy the artists.

A statement expressing Forensic Architecture’s solidarity with Palestine has been reinstated at the Whitworth in Manchester after the collective threatened to pull the solo exhibition.

Headed ‘Forensic Architecture stands with Palestine’ the note came at the end of the show, a wide-ranging study on the after effects of chemical attacks and pollution, incorporating case studies from Syria Chile, Papua and Palestine itself. The sign went on to state: ‘We believe this liberation struggle is inseparable from other global struggles against racism, white supremacy, antisemitism, and settler colonial violence and we acknowledge its particularly close entanglement with the Black liberation struggle around the world.’

A group of pro-Israel pressure groups, including the Manchester Jewish Representative Council, North West Friends of Israel and the Manchester Zionist Central Council, complained. UK Lawyers for Israel described the statement at the gallery, which is owned and operated by the University of Manchester as ‘inflammatory language’ that portrayed ‘Israel as an occupation force engaged in ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and human and environmental destruction.’

A note made in solidarity with Palestine by Forensic Architecture

In a letter to the group, Professor Nalin Thakkar, the vice-president of the university, apologised and the the note was removed early last week.

On Wednesday however, gallery director Alastair Hudson said the show, and the note, will remain on display, but prominent space will be made for alternative points of view. ‘The university, as a non-political organisation, has tried to balance extremely complex issues raised by the exhibition, but we believe that the worst outcome for all parties concerned would have been to close this exhibition for an extended period of time’ he told the Guardian.

Forensic Architecture explained the reasoning behind their original statement: ‘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. The ferocity of the bombing produced man­ made environmental disasters with underground explosions leading to artificial earthquakes under Gaza City.’

‘At the same time,the targeting of agricultural storage facilities produced massive ‘airquakes’, with clouds of toxic fumes covering entire residential areas. Elsewhere across Palestine, we saw the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian neighbourhoods by Israeli police and settlers, and raids and tear gas use against cultural centres, including that of our collaborators and friends in Dar Jacir.’

From Friday, visitors were also presented by a text authored by the Manchester Jewish Representative Council which said: ‘The Forensic Architecture exhibition within the Whitworth Art Gallery contains false statements. We ask visitors not to assume that any statement in that exhibition is true. You may wish to photograph this statement on your mobile so that you have it to hand as you see the exhibition.’

The text then went on to promote Israel as a democracy with a socially liberal attitude to sexuality and religion, as well making points concerning recent episodes in the Israel-Palestine conflict, refuting claims that it ‘occupied’ the Palestinian territory, as well as outlining the Jewish people’s historic claims to the land. It went on to refute Forensic Architecture’s analogy between the Palestinian struggle and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UK Lawyers for Israel commented on the two-note solution: ‘While we welcome this mitigation of some of the damage done by the misleading contents of the exhibition and its introductory statement, we remain concerned that the decision to host this exhibition was taken without due consideration of community relations.’

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