Artists in 31st São Paul Bienal Petition to Return Israeli Funding; Curators Respond

Hyperallergic’s Mostafa Heddaya reports that fifty-five of the sixty-eight participating artists and collectives in the thirty-first edition of the São Paulo Bienal have signed an open letter demanding that the biennial refuse funding from Israel. The Israeli Consulate is listed as one of twenty-one organizations providing “International Support” on the biennial’s website.

Artists apparently met on August 20th with Luis Terepins, the president of the Bienal Foundation, to discuss the matter. When it appeared the biennial would open without publicly addressing the topic, the artists began to circulate a letter. “We reject Israel’s attempt to normalise itself within the context of a major international cultural event in Brazil,” it reads.

The biennial’s curators—Charles Esche, Galit Eilat, Nuria Enguita Mayo, Pablo Lafuente, and Oren Sagiv—responded late Friday with a letter that claims they “support the artists and understand their position.” It goes on to argue that “sources of cultural funding have an increasingly dramatic impact on the supposedly ‘independent’ curatorial and artistic narrative of an event.”

The full text and list of signatories, as well as the curators’ response, is reproduced below.

The São Paulo Bienal begins its press and professional previews on Monday, September 1 and opens to the public on Saturday, September 6.

Open letter to the Fundacão Bienal Sao Paulo,

We, the undersigned artists participating in the 31st Bienal have been suddenly confronted, just as the show is about to open, with the fact that the Fundação Bienal de São Paulo has accepted money from the Israeli state and that the Israeli Consulate logo appears in the Bienal pavilion and on its publications and website.

At a time in which the people of Gaza return to the rubble of their homes, destroyed by the Israeli military we do not feel it is acceptable to receive Israeli cultural sponsorship. In accepting this funding our artistic work displayed in the exhibition is undermined and implicitly used for whitewashing Israel’s on going aggressions and violation of international law and human rights. We reject Israel’s attempt to normalise itself within the context of a major international cultural event in Brazil.

With this statement, we appeal to the Fundação Bienal to refuse this funding and to take action on this matter before the opening of the exhibition.

1. Agnieszka Piksa

2. Alejandra Riera

3. Ana Lira

4. Andreas Maria Fohr

5. Asier Mendizabal

6. Chto Delat collective: Dmitry Vilensky, Tsaplya Olga Egrova, Nikolay Oleynikov

7. Danica Dakic

8. Débora Maria da Silva and Movimento Mães de Maio

9. Erick Beltran

10. Etcetera… / Federico Zukerfeld/Loreto Garin Guzman

11. Farid Rakun

12. Francisco Casas y Pedro Lemebel (Yeguas del Apocalipsis)

13. Gabriel Mascaro

14. Graziela Kusch

15. Grupo Contrafilé

16. Gulsun Karamustafa

17. Halil Altindere

18. Heidi Abderhalden

19. Imogen Stidworthy

20. Ines Doujak

21. Jakob Jakobsen

22. John Barker

23. Jonas Staal

24. Lia Perjovschi and Dan Perjovschi

25. Liesbeth Bik and Jos van der Pol

26. Lilian L’Abbate Kelian

27. Loreto Garin

28. Luis Ernesto Díaz

29. Mapa Teatro-Laboratorio de Artistas

30. María Berríos

31. Maria Galindo & Esther Argollo, Mujeres Creando

32. Mark Lewis

33. Marta Neves

34. Michael Kessus Gedalyovich

35. Miguel A. López

36. Nilbar Güres

37. Otobong Nkanga

38. Pedro G. Romero Archivo F.X.

39. Prabhakar Pachpute

40. Rolf Abderhalden

41. Romy Pocztaruk

42. Ruanne Abou-Rahme Basel Abbas

43. Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti

44. Santiago Sepúlveda

45. Sergio Zevallos

46. Sheela Gowda

47. Tamar Guimarães e Kasper Akhøj

48. Thiago Martins de Melo

49. Tiago Borges

50. Tony Chakar

51. Voluspa Jarpa

52. Walid Raad

53. Ximena Vargas

54. Yael Bartana

55. Yonamine


We, the curators of the 31st Bienal de São Paulo, support the artists and understand their position.

We believe that the statement and demand by the artists should also be a trigger to think about the funding sources of major cultural events. In the 31st Bienal, much of the work seeks to show that struggles for justice in Brazil, Latin America and elsewhere in the world are connected. The idea of living in transformational times is fundamental to this Bienal, times when old patterns of behaviour are exhausted and long-held beliefs are questioned. This transformation also affects the relationship between curators and organisers of major cultural events such as this Bienal. At the outset, we accepted the traditional agreement in which curators have artistic freedom and the Foundation has responsibility for the financial and administrative affairs. The Bienal de São Paulo Foundation has very correctly kept to this agreement throughout. In our turn, we assisted in international fundraising.

However, as a consequence of this situation, alongside other incidents at similar events worldwide, it is clear that the sources of cultural funding have an increasingly dramatic impact on the supposedly ‘independent’ curatorial and artistic narrative of an event. The funding, whether state, corporate or private, fundamentally shapes the way the public receives the work of artists and curators.

While this is a wider issue than the 31st Bienal de São Paulo, we ask that the Foundation revise their current rules of sponsorship and ensure that artists and curators agree to any support that is forthcoming for their work and that may have an impact on its content and reception.