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Over 1000 artists disengage from Bristol’s Arnolfini after cancelled Palestinian film festival events

Isabel Williams reports on the open letter from Bristol artists to the Arnolfini over accusations of 'censorship of Palestinian culture'.

By Isabel Williams, Arts Co-Deputy Editor

A number of leading artists have written an open letter accusing the Arnolfini International Centre for Contemporary Arts of 'censorship of Palestinian culture', and have refused to work with the centre until it 'rectifies the harm it has done'. 

Bristol artists who have signed the letter include Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley; Massive Attack’s Robert del Naja and writers Alice Oswald, Nikesh Shukla, Shon Faye, Travis Alabanza and Rachel Holmes.

The letter comes in response to the Arnolfini’s cancellation of scheduled film and poetry events programmed by Bristol Palestine Film Festival, which was announced on 21st November.

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A statement from the venue claims this was a 'difficult decision', but was ultimately made as they 'could not be confident that the event would not stray into political activity'.

Those who oppose the decision have made accusations of hypocrisy against the gallery, citing its previous hosting of overtly political events, including an event last year that aimed to raise donations for the Disasters Emergency Committee Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.

The open letter reads: 'Arnolfini has a rich historical heritage, benefiting from the wider artistic freedom that artists and their publics have fought for in Britain. This legacy cannot be allowed to fall prey to authoritarianism, racism and censorship. Anyone who cares about the democratic functioning of our cultural institutions should be deeply concerned.

'Until the Arnolfini leadership publicly commits to consistently uphold freedom of expression, with no exception for Palestine, and genuinely engages with Bristol’s arts community to rectify the harm it has caused, we must, reluctantly, refuse cooperation with the arts centre and will not participate in any of its events.'

Bristol artist and composer Nik Rawlings, who has since withdrawn from talks about undertaking a residency at Arnolfini, stated: 'We want to make it clear that we stand fully behind workers at Arnolfini who’ve had no say in this.

'Our message is addressed to those in the management who made this damaging decision; the signatories of this letter expect better integrity, transparency and cultural leadership from Arnolfini.'

Arnolfini is yet to release a response to the letter.

Featured image courtesy of Dhristi Agarwal

What do you think of the Arnolfini's actions?