A figure of a crucified Ronald McDonald.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER DEMIANCHUK)
The sculpture of a crucified Ronald McDonald, which sparked violent protests in Haifa on Friday, was never supposed to be in the Haifa Museum of Art in the first place, according to its artist, Jani Leinonen.
The Finnish artist told The Jerusalem Post Sunday that the news of protests by Haifa’s Arab Christian community, “came to me as an upsetting surprise, particularly because my work is in the exhibition against my wishes.”
Leinonen said he told Shaked Shamir, curator of the "Sacred Goods" exhibit, in which his sculpture is displayed, to remove his artwork from the exhibition.
“I joined the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, that upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity,” Leinonen said. “Israel overtly uses culture as a form of propaganda to whitewash or justify its regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid over the Palestinian people. Therefore I do not wish to be part of this exhibition and I asked the museum to take my artwork off the exhibition.”
According to Leinonen, he received a reply from Shamir that led him to believe his piece was removed. Then, Saturday morning, he read about the violent demonstrations.
“I immediately sent another request to the curator to take the work out of the exhibition, as it should have been in the first place,” said Leinonen. “I have not heard anything back from the museum. I insist my work will be taken off the exhibition instantly.”
However, a spokesperson for the Haifa Museum of Art said that the McJesus sculpture, as it is known, was borrowed from a gallery in Finland under contract for a specific period of time. The sculpture has been in the museum since August 2018 and since that time “the museum has never received a request from the gallery to remove the sculpture.”
The spokeswoman was unsure if Shamir has received such a request directly from the artist.
“The frequency of such events connected with BDS activists that seek to prevent art exhibitions in Israel has arisen often over the past few years and the museum has to handle many cases of this kind,” the spokesperson said. “The Haifa Museum of Art works with dedication against attempts such as these so that Israelis who appreciate art will will continue to have access to it.”
On Friday, it was reported that the protests against the sculpture broke out because the Arab Christian community felt the sculpture was religiously disrespectful.
An Arab Christian protester told Walla! news that the government was not properly responding to the Arab Christian community's complaints because of their minority status in Israel.
“If they put up [a sculpture of] Hitler with a Torah scroll they would immediately respond,” he said.
The protests turned violent and the Haifa Police Department sent officers from its Special Patrol Unit to guard the museum.
A few hundred protesters tried forcibly entering the Haifa Museum of Art during the demonstration, according to the Haifa police. Three police officers were lightly wounded by rocks thrown at them.
But Museum Director-General Nissim Tal told The Post
that on opening night in August, more than 1,000 people were in attendance and there was not enough room to accommodate everyone. Since then, more than 30,000 visitors have come to see the nine exhibits that comprise a comprehensive exhibit about the commercialization of modern society.
Following the protests, Tal agreed to post a sign at the entrance warning visitors that some may find the content offensive.
A source at the Haifa municipality said she believed the protests were triggered by a “right-wing extremist in protest against the election of Einat Kalisch Rotem, who replaces Yona Yahav as mayor of Haifa.”
She said that with the museum being an important element of cultural life in Haifa, “ it is a soft target, easy prey for those opposed to Kalisch Rotem.”
The municipal source’s statements could not be confirmed.
This is a developing story.Maayan Hoffman and Sara Rubenstein contributed to this article.
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