Wexner Center cancels panel event featuring Palestinian artist
“Break, Take, Erase, Tally,” currently on display at Wexner Center for the Arts, features work by multidisciplinary Palestinian artist Jumana Manna that ranges from films to sculptural forms.
According to the , the show seeks to “visualize the slow violence of industrial agriculture, neoliberal economic policy, and policing.”
One film that screens throughout the day is Foragers, from 2022, in which Manna explores how the Israeli government has criminalized the traditional Palestinian practice of foraging wild plants – namely the ’akkoub (an artichoke-like vegetable) and za’atar (thyme) – in the name of nature conservation. (Foragers has two screenings remaining at the Wex, with showings on Thursday, Nov. 9, and Tuesday, Nov. 28.)
Manna that Israel sees the Palestinian landscape as “wild” and “barbaric,” requiring “control, refinement, or simply elimination.” This, she said in a talk at the , is “persistent throughout the histories of colonialism and slavery.”
Until recently, the Wex listed Manna as one of the panelists for a Nov. 14 event focused on "The Creative Future of Food” – part of the center’s ongoing “Director’s Dialogue on Art and Social Change” series. Other panelists were set to include Columbus forager and social media personality Alexis Nikole Nelson and Orlando Zane Hunter Jr. and Ricarrdo Valentine of the Brother(hood) Dance! duo.
The panel has since been canceled and a statement posted reads: “The Wexner Center for the Arts has canceled the Director’s Dialogue on Art and Social Change. Due to current world events, we do not feel this is the right time to have conversations about a region at war. We will look for opportunities to reconvene the panel at a future date.”
"The Wexner Center for the Arts is privileged to exhibit artwork in many forms by a wide range of artists," the Wex said in a statement offered in response to a request for comment, the entirety of which can be read below. "While the center is committed to this mission, it is important to understand that the views expressed by the artists through their work are their own and do not represent the views of the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Wexner Center Foundation, its trustees, or The Ohio State University."
Manna said she has experienced censorship related to her work about Palestine in the past. In with the journal Protocols, the Berlin-based artist said it’s common for her to be excluded from events due to her speaking out against Israel. “Censorship often happens not directly, but through exclusion,” she said. “I believe that is the most prominent form: a non-engagement with these issues by avoiding inviting Palestinians or Arabs, and more recently left-wing Jews.”
Another roundtable interviewee, Emily Dische-Becker, said it’s common for events to be canceled due to “concerned citizens” calling in to complain about the artist.
In Manna’s current hometown of Berlin, speaking out against Israel is considered antisemitic by the German government. Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), a Palestinian-led freedom movement, has been outlawed, and in response to the government banned . But this hasn’t stopped the largest Palestinian diaspora in Europe from marching through the streets, leading to intense police repression and the banning of the .
“[P]ublic programs focused on Palestine or the critique of Israel is basically a no-go,” Manna said in Protocol. She also recalled a time when the word “Zionist” was taken out of her artist statement because “it was a problematic word to use.” “It’s really intense how much paranoia there is about ‘Zionism,’ ‘occupation,’ even the term ‘West Bank,’” she said. “Not to mention ‘apartheid’ or ‘settler-colonialism.’”
But Germany is not alone in restricting Palestinian voices. in 2016, constricting the political and economic methods of resistance, namely the one used to spur the end of apartheid in South Africa.
The Wex’s cancellation of Manna’s panel discussion arrives amid a larger censorship of Palestinian voices currently taking place across the U.S.
The cable news outlet MSNBC received criticism when it quietly began to . And in New York, a planned Oct. 20 event with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen was by the 92nd Street Y, New York (92NY) hours before it was set to take place – and just two days after Nguyen signed an open letter in the calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
In response to the cancellation, the staff of 92NY .
Posting later about these events on , Nguyen wrote, "I have no regrets about anything I have said or done in regards to Palestine, Israel, or the occupation and war."
Read the entirety of the statement from the Wexner Center for the Arts:
"The Wexner Center for the Arts is privileged to exhibit artwork in many forms by a wide range of artists. Through exhibitions, performances, screenings, educational programs, artist residencies, and publications, the Wexner Center for the Arts serves as a vital forum where artists share ideas and where diverse audiences engage with the art and issues of our time. While the center is committed to this mission, it is important to understand that the views expressed by the artists through their work are their own and do not represent the views of the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Wexner Center Foundation, its trustees, or The Ohio State University. An exhibition, performance, film, talk or any artist's work shown within the center is not to be construed as approval or endorsement of the artist's publications, activities, actions, or positions."