International News Digest


The Israeli embassy in Spain has qualified a sculpture shown at ARCO in Madrid as “offensive.” As Agence France-Presse reports, the sculpture—created by the Catalan artist Eugenio Merino—features a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew praying on top of one another. In a press release, the embassy stated that Merino’s work includes “elements [that are] offensive to Jews, Israelis, and no doubt for others,” while noting that “values such as the freedom of expression or artistic liberty sometimes serve as a simple disguise for prejudices, stereotypes, and pure provocation for the sake of provocation.” The artist insists that he did not want to hurt anyone and conceived his sculpture as an attempt to bring the religions together. “I produced a work that speaks of the unity of religions and the alliance between civilizations,” Merino told Europa Press, which is cited by AFP. “The reading of the work is very clear,” added the artist. “It’s a tower where the three great [monotheist] religions collaborate to reach the same goal which is God.”


For UNESCO, 2010 is the International Year of Rapprochement of Cultures. As Agence France-Presse reports, the initiative will involve figures from around the world in an attempt to counter the rise of extremist movements. “Peace from sixty years ago is not peace today,” said UNESCO director general Irina Bokova last week in Paris at the press conference that officially launched the new program. “One must rethink way of maintaining peace, rethink the dialogue between cultures.” Figures include the Nobel literature laureate Wole Soyinka; former president of the European Parliament and Auschwitz survivor Simone Veil; the grand mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mustafa Ceric; a representative for the Vatican, Francesco Follo; former Pakistani minister Attiya Inyatullah; the Malian filmmaker Souleymane Cissé; former Norwegian prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik; and a representative of the Moscow Ecumenical Patriarchate, Philip Riabykh. The group will meet for debates and other events during the year. Bokova, who was elected to her position as the UNESCO head in 2009, has emphasized the need to counter conflicts “based on ethnic, religious, and linguistic intolerance.”


Milan Knizak, the general director of the Czech National Gallery in Prague, will be leaving his position after more than ten years on the job. The Süddeutsche Zeitung reports that “a deep sigh of relief” could be felt among Knizak’s detractors in the Prague arts scene after his departure was announced. His critics claim that Knizak lacks imagination, initiative, and an appreciation of contemporary currents in art. Yet the departing director insists that the National Gallery is a museum, not a kunsthalle.


The Chinese artist Ko Siu Lan’s work—which was taken down in an act of censorship from the facade of Paris’s Beaux-Arts arts academy—has been reinstalled after much criticism and a promise of legal action from the artist. As Le Monde’s Michel Guerrin reports, no less a figure than French minister of culture Frédéric Mitterrand ordered that the work be reinstalled. Ko’s four black banners put a new critical spin on a successful presidential 2007 election slogan from Nicolas Sarkozy. While Sarkozy had campaigned with the phrase “Travailler plus pour gagner plus” (Work more to gain more), Ko offered a more equivocal message with the words TRAVAILLER (work), MOINS (less), GAGNER (earn), and PLUS (more). The directors of the Beaux-Arts made the decision to remove the installation, which they felt ran against the “neutrality” of the public service. Since the Beaux-Arts is under the tutelage of the ministry of culture, the minister proved to have the last word. The thirty-two-year-old Ko, who traveled to France to complete her studies at the academy, celebrated the “victory of truth and freedom of expression.” According to the report, Mitterand telephoned the artist to say that he was “sorry for this idiotic story.”