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Jean-Léon Gérôme, The Slave Market, 1866.
Jean-Léon Gérôme, The Slave Market, 1866.

Clark Art Institute Condemns Far-Right German Party’s Use of Painting from Its Collection

The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, is demanding that Germany’s far-right party, AfD (Alternative for Germany), stop using Jean-Léon Gérôme’s painting The Slave Market, 1866—which the museum holds in its collection—in an anti-Muslim campaign waged ahead of the European Union’s Parliament elections.

Monopol reports that the Berlin office of the right-wing populist party has installed dozens of billboards across the city that feature a detail of the work, which depicts a naked, light-skinned woman being presented by a slave trader to a group of turbaned men. One of the men, a prospective buyer, reaches into her mouth with his fingers to check her teeth. The propaganda also reads: “So that Europe won’t become Eurabia! Europeans vote for the AfD.”

“We strongly condemn the use of the painting to advance AfD’s political stance and have written to them insisting that they cease and desist,” said the Clark Art Institute’s director, Olivier Meslay. “We are strongly opposed to the use of this work to advance any political agenda.” However, since the painting is in the public domain, the institution cannot prevent the party from appropriating the image.

According to CBS, a spokesman for the Berlin branch of the AfD party called the institution’s appeal “a futile attempt to gag the AfD” and said that it will not take down any of the posters. AfD politician Ronald Glaeser said, “The German public has the right to find out about the truth about the possible consequences of illegal mass immigration.” The party’s xenophobic agenda helped them win Parliament seats in 2017 as criticism mounted against Angela Merkel’s open-door immigration policy, but AfD’s momentum has since stalled.