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Wednesday April 13, 2011 12:57 PM (EST+7)
Palestinian dismissed over Sharjah exhibit

Read more: Jack Persekian, art, Sharjah Biennial, culture, al-Mamal, UAE, Sharjah, Rasha Salti

RAMALLAH, April 13 (JMCC) - Palestinian-American artist Jack Persekian has directed the Sharjah Biennial, an acclaimed art show in the third largest emirate of the UAE, since 2005.

But last week he was fired from his job over a controversial exhibit that has since been removed, reports The National.

The offending art work, selected by curators Rasha Salti and Haig Aivazian, was an installation piece by Algerian artist Mustapha Benfodil.

It Has No Importance was dedicated to Algerian victims of rape at the hands of religious extremists and featured mannequins dressed in shirts emblazoned with both sexually explicit and religious language. (NY Arts Magazine publishes a photo here.)

Salti and Aivazian defended Persekian in a statement and said they had misjudged the local context.

We tried to make all of our selections with utmost responsibility and prudence. We see now that we misjudged the limits of the tone with which to address sensitive topics and the importance of carefully contextualising artwork.

As two of the Biennial curators that chose the artist and work, it is our duty to share the burden of responsibility with Mr Persekian.

Persekian, speaking to The National, said he simply hadn't read all the fine print.

His firing and the removal of the exhibit has raised charges of censorship. Al-Mamal Foundation in Jerusalem has circulated a petition in support of Persekian and objecting to what it says are limits on freedom of expression.

In the days following Mr. Persekian’s dismissal, a number of other art works have also been declared offensive, resulting in them either being taken down, altered or relegated to the status “under review”.

There has also since been a malicious campaign circulating through numerous social networks directed against Mr. Persekian, accusing him of heresy and conspiratorial intent. This campaign has sought to deliberately misinform the public, to undermine his integrity and the pioneering and generous work he has undertaken in Sharjah over the years.


We, the undersigned, are deeply alarmed by the worrying and dangerous shift by those occupying positions of power in the Emirate with regards to artistic and intellectual expression. These actions set a deplorable precedent, one that may further legitimate institutional and self-censorship. Both of which we strongly oppose.







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