A second member of the committee that will select an artistic director for Documenta 16, the 2027 edition of one of the world’s biggest art festivals, resigned this past weekend.
Indian poet and critic Ranjit Hoskote quit the committee on Sunday after being denounced by Documenta for signing a letter that compared Zionism and Hindu nationalism. Documenta called that letter “anti-Semitic” and announced that it would discuss it further with Hoskote, who said in the German press that the exhibition’s allegations obscured the letter’s nuances.
“It is clear to me that there is no room, in this toxic atmosphere, for a nuanced discussion of the issues at stake,” Hoskote wrote in his resignation letter, which was publicly released by Documenta on Monday after reports emerged in the German press and which was subsequently published in English by e-flux. “And now—in what strikes me as a doomed attempt to save a situation that is beyond saving—I am being asked to accept a sweeping and untenable definition of anti-Semitism that conflates the Jewish people with the Israeli state; and that, correspondingly, misrepresents any expression of sympathy with the Palestinian people as support for Hamas.”
Documenta, which takes place once every five years in Kassel, Germany, had in 2022 been roiled by allegations of antisemitism. Controversy swirled around artworks that many said contained Jewish stereotypes, and some claimed that the exhibition had included Palestinian artists at the exclusion of Israeli ones.
The tense atmosphere surrounding Documenta 15 now seems to have also infiltrated Documenta 16, which does not even have a curator yet. While an artistic director was expected to be announced by early 2024, the timeline may be thrown off by the resignations of two members of the six-member selection committee: Hoskote and Bracha L. Ettinger.
Ettinger, an artist, philosopher, and psychoanalyst based in Tel Aviv, quit the committee on Friday amid what she called “dark times” for Israel. She said she had been unable to attend meetings and that the conflict had weighed on her. Yet she also told Der Spiegel that her decision was not related to reports in the German press about Hoskote.
Last week, a Suddeutsche Zeitung report revealed that Hoskote had signed a 2019 letter by the Indian division of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, a movement that advocates for Palestinian rights and liberation. Shortly after the report came out, Documenta head Andreas Hoffmann issued a statement decrying Hoskote, saying that all the selection committee members had been required to state that they had no connections to BDS.
Claudia Roth, Germany’s culture minister, threatened to pull funding from Documenta, and the Israeli embassy in Germany even weighed in, writing on X that the exhibition was “not in a position” to select a curator for 2027.
In his resignation letter, Hoskote vehemently denied the “outrageous” allegation that the letter was antisemitic and claimed that he had been treated unfairly by the press. “I have a strong feeling that I have been subjected to a kangaroo court,” he wrote.
He denied a formal association with BDS and also said, “I condemn unequivocally the terror unleashed by Hamas against Israel on October 7, 2023, and the horrendous massacre by Hamas militants of Israeli men, women, and children as well as Palestinian, Thai, Filipino, Nepali, and other individuals. I mourn the deaths of these innocent people.”
Then he directly addressed other forms of violence that have resulted in the intervening days. “At the same time,” Hoskote wrote, “I cannot ignore the brutal program of annihilation that the government of Israel has launched against the Palestinian civilian population, in retaliation. I cannot look away from this humanitarian catastrophe, its cost exacted in the lives of innocent men, women, and children. Now, more than ever, there is a compelling need to bring the communities of Israel and Palestine together, to renounce the exceptionalism of suffering on both sides, and to craft a solidarity of grief, a communion of shared vulnerability, and a process of healing and renewal.”
Hoffmann, in a statement on Monday, called the decision to resign “completely respectable,” and said, “The current developments surrounding the documenta 16 search committee show once again how long the road to a consistent processing of documenta 15 still is. There is a need for consistent distancing from any form of anti-Semitism. The events of summer 2022 must not be repeated. This is the only way to make a real new beginning after the events of documenta fifteen.”
Four members of the committee remain: Simon Njami, Gong Yan, María Inés Rodríguez, and Kathrin Rhomberg. Documenta said in its announcement that it was now discussing the “composition” of its selection committee and the timeline for a new artistic director internally.
Update, 11/13/23, 8:10 p.m.: This article now includes a link to e-flux’s English-language version of the letter. Certain translations from the German that initially appeared in this article have also been corrected.