The “Biennial of São Paulo” in Brazil is the second oldest art exhibition in the world after the Venice Biennale (existing since 1895), which served as its model. The three-story pavilion was designed by a team led by architects Oscar Niemeyer and Hélio Uchôa, and provides an exhibition space of 30,000 square meters. The São Paulo Biennial features both Brazilian and international contemporary art and is considered to be one of the most important large-scale art exhibitions in Brazil and South America.
The 2014 Biennial kicked off on September 6th and will run until December 7th. This year, among the exhibitors are Israelis who are sponsored as usual by the Israeli Consulate General in São Paulo, in addition to the event itself that the consulate is sponsoring.
With Israel being one of the sponsors, protests began among the majority of the artists who wrote an official letter, lead by Lebanese artist Tony Chakar, to the Biennal organizers requesting them to give back the money Israel provided and remove the Israeli logo from the sponsors list.
I may be an Israeli but I am also a Brazilian Jew, currently in Brazil giving lectures throughout the country. I was in 4 states and 6 cities already doing talks with Jewish communities as well non-Jewish groups such as universities and police forces. The lectures are about Gaza and Hamas and how Israel fights an asymmetrical war. I will not talk about my whole 34 days in Brazil right now but will definitely write more about my amazing experience in my next post, once I’m back in Israel. After seeing the outrageous uprising in the Biennial, I couldn’t remain silent. Below you can find the letter I wrote to the protesting artists. It went viral and the artists got their message whether they agreed with it or not. I share with the world today the letter translated from Portuguese to English.
An Open Letter to the Biennial of São Paulo and the Anti-Israel Artists:Art is the purest expression of the human being; it emphasizes political beliefs and ideas in order to enhance the abstract and unimaginable images that can prevail in a piece of art. The State of Israel, a democratic country and member of the international community, encourages its artists to increase their universality and exhibit its culture to the world. Like Israel, dozens of countries encouraged their artists at the Biennial in Sao Paulo, however we have not seen any protest against those countries.
If an Arab artist feels uncomfortable with the presence of Israel among the sponsors,it is the same as an athlete feeling uncomfortable to be competing against an Israeli, that by logical this athlete will have the support of his country. In this line of thought, such an attitude would be rejected as it is in world events that preach coexistence between peoples, and the elevation of art and sports in relation to the other sides of everyday life. This artist should exit from the back door if he/she do not accept the presence of an artist or athlete at his side, as well as their own sponsor.
The State of Israel has the largest number of readers of books per capita in the world, has the highest number of museums per capita of the planet and is the second country in the world in education and academic studies. The pipeline is already known: Many thinkers and anti-israelis often used and will use any weapon to delegitimize the only democracy in the Middle East, that significantly in the past, named a minister of Arab origin as Minister of Culture and Sport, and which paradoxically is the only country in the region where an Arab artist, Jew or Christian, being a woman or man, may exercise their gifts and spread their imaginations without being persecuted or barred. This is repudiating, lacks rational basis, and is no more than an attempt to attract hatred and ignorance toward the State of Israel. The logo of the State of Israel and its consulate in São Paulo was not removed from the official website of the Biennial event and the resources sent by the country will not be returned either. This episode served as a warning to supporters of democracy and universal values in Brazil about recurring acts of racism and anti-Semitism perpetrated tenuously in order to demonize a people and a nation that just wants to live in peace with its neighbors while making the whole world a better place through art, culture and universal understanding among peoples.André Lajst