The criticism that has been pouring down on the President of the University of Fine Arts (HFBK) Martin Köttering in recent days has been severe. The background to this was the university's decision to accept two members of the Indonesian documenta curator collective Ruangrupa, which is controversial due to allegations of anti-Semitism, as guest professors.
Hamburg's anti-Semitism officer, Stefan Hensel, described the events at the university as "scandalous". He would not have expected that two of the protagonists would receive guest professorships after the documenta scandal. "Israel-related anti-Semitism and the anti-Srael boycott movement BDS must not be allowed to enter our universities." Hamburg's Senator for Science Katharina Fegebank (Greens) was critical, and the Jewish community also expressed sharp criticism.
However, the university is sticking to its position, at least for the time being. The two Ruangrupa members Reza Afisina and Iswanto Hartono were introduced on Wednesday afternoon at the start of the semester - and are soon to hold their first seminars. University President Martin Köttering had previously stated: “We are very aware of the scope of this accusation and the responsibility associated with it. But the two guest professors have repeatedly denied the allegation of anti-Semitism.”
During the speech at the university, he also explained that the university wanted to try to openly discuss the topic. He invites everyone to join the discussion. His speeches were always interrupted by protesters in the hall. "This is not art, this is anti-Semitism" was heard. Some held up placards that read: "Hate is not art, hate is a crime" or "Fight BDS". There had also been minor protests in front of the building. Individual protesters came to send a signal, such as Silke Opfer. "I'm here to fly the flag. Such a group has no place at a university.”
Köttering had previously spoken of "massive media pressure" to uninvite the artists. You want to talk to them, not about them. “And we want to pay more attention to the artistic questions they raise. Of course we will use the time to process the documenta," said the President.
The curatorial collective of this year's documenta, Ruangrupa, is accused, among other things, of being close to the BDS movement, which calls for a boycott of Israel. Shortly after the documenta opened in mid-June, a work with anti-Semitic imagery was discovered and dismantled. Even after that, other works with anti-Jewish stereotypes were found at the documenta. Like thousands of other international artists, Reza Afisina and Iswanto Hartono signed the “Letter against Apartheid” – Israel is described there as a colonial power.
After the decision became known, there was widespread criticism. The deputy mayor Katharina Fegebank (Greens), as science senator responsible for the universities, explained: "The allegations of anti-Semitism at documenta fifteen weigh heavily," explained Fegebank. They also concern the Ruangrupa collective, to which Reza Afisina and Iswanto Hartono belonged, "and they have a responsibility to clarify these allegations". The science authority is already holding talks with the HFBK, but the universities are autonomous in appointing their professors.
"Fegebank now has to explain when she found out about the guest professorship and how she influenced the decision," demanded Ria Schröder, education policy spokeswoman for the FDP and member of the Bundestag. The university management must explain why they are sticking to the guest professorship despite the allegations of anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism officer Stefan Hensel emphasized that the HFBK had already employed Adam Broomberg as a lecturer in the past, who positioned himself as a BDS activist in the art world, repeatedly defamed the country as an apartheid state and advocated a boycott against Israel. He says: "Every Israeli who comes to our universities must be able to learn there undisturbed and be able to develop here."
The HFBK does not want to follow the demand to uninvite guest professors. Vice President Bettina Uppenkamp said in advance: "I even think it would have been a mistake to uninvite her again due to the massive media pressure. The discussion of the difficult issues that have dominated the media must continue. You shouldn't shy away from that." with dpa