Years Before Its Opening, Trouble Brews for Documenta 16

Mumbai-based writer and curator Ranjit Hoskoté has resigned from the six-person committee responsible for appointing Documenta’s next artistic director after he was accused of “anti-semitism” for signing a petition likening Zionism to Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) in 2019.

Following German news outlet Süddeutsche Zeitung‘s November 9 report of Hoskoté’s petition signing, culture minister Claudia Roth of Germany’s Green Party quickly decried the petition as “clearly anti-semitic” and threatened to withdraw funding from the international art exhibition.

The petition Hoskoté had signed, titled “Statement Against Consulate General of Israel, Mumbai Event on Hindutva and Zionism,” was penned by the Indian chapter of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement in protest of an event with a right-wing Israeli speaker at the University of Mumbai. In May 2019, the German Parliament designated the BDS movement as antisemitic, and pledged to de-platform and cut finances to organizations that actively support the movement or “question Israel’s right to exist.”

The petition said that Zionism is a “racist ideology calling for a settler-colonial, apartheid state where non-Jews have unequal rights, and in practice, has been premised on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians for the last seven decades,” mirrored by the “supremacist ideology” of Hindutva, which calls for a nation of Hindus through similar means.

In his resignation letter, later published in e-flux, Hoskoté denounced the “monstrous charge of anti-Semitism” against him and said he was “subjected to the proceedings of a kangaroo court.”

“It is clear to me that there is no room, in this toxic atmosphere, for a nuanced discussion of the issues at stake,” Hoskoté wrote in his November 12 letter. “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’s Managing Director Andreas Hoffmann welcomed Hoskoté’s resignation, calling it “logical and respectable.” In a November 9 statement, Documenta also added that “it was an essential requirement of the shareholders that the Finding Committee should have no BDS affiliations, and this was explicitly conveyed to the former Artistic Directors entrusted with the task of setting up the Finding Committee.” Documenta’s next edition is slated to open in 2027.

Another member of the finding committee, Israeli artist Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger, has also resigned from her post this week, citing her inability to contribute at the scheduled speed in light of “the situation in the Middle East.”

This all follows an especially contentious 15th edition of Documenta in 2022, throughout which the festival’s curatorial team, the Indonesian collective Ruangrupa, battled antisemitism allegations made by the German media and pro-Israel groups. Last month, Documenta publicly condemned two members of Ruangrupa for liking pro-Palestinian rally posts on Instagram days after the unprecedented Hamas attack on Israeli citizens.

“I have dedicated my life to opposing authoritarian forces and discriminatory ideologies, and my signature carried with it the weight of my commitment to dialogue, inclusiveness, mutuality, and the ceaseless quest for common ground,” Hoskoté concluded his resignation letter. “This commitment remains with me, as the cornerstone of my life.”

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