In a Polarized Art World, This New Index Is Mapping Incidents of Censorship Since October 7 - The World News

In a Polarized Art World, This New Index Is Mapping Incidents of Censorship Since October 7

As more and more artists claim they have been censored after speaking out on Palestine and Israel, a new online tool—called the Art Censorship Index, and released earlier this week—aims to track and map such incidents since October 7.

The initiative was spearheaded by the National Coalition Against Censorship, a New York–based nonprofit composed of more than 50 organizations. Its mission, per its website, is to help defend the right to free expression for “creators of all forms of art and cultural production.”

“Our cultural sphere is at its richest when artists and cultural institutions are able to reflect upon challenging social and political issues of our time,” Elizabeth Larison, director of NCAC’s Arts and Culture Advocacy Program, said in a statement. “By documenting these instances of art censorship, we hope to inspire greater accountability and dialogue within the artistic community and beyond.”

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A New Index is Mapping Incidents of Censorship 

The art world has grown increasingly polarized in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and the subsequent aerial bombardment and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli military. (As of publication, more than 35,000 Palestinian in Gaza have been killed, according to the local health ministry.) Accusations of censorship at art institutions and college campuses worldwide spiked dramatically in the ensuing months.

An introduction to the index explains that it intentionally limited its data collection to incidents in which institutions “expressly canceled, withdrew, or abandoned a program or work after plans to present it had been communicated, and where the reason for the withdrawal was related to the perceived political content of the work, the personal politics of the artist, or the national or cultural associations tied up in the content of the work.”

It will not include cases in which artists significantly altered their own work after it had been curated, or cases where “the existing curatorial frameworks precluded an artwork from being selected in the first place.” Additionally, the map does not record employee firings, incidents of galleries severing representation of artists, or the expulsion of student groups from campuses.

Incidents indexed in the United States include the cancellation of a talk by Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen about his memoir A Man of Two Faces that was originally hosted by 92NY last October. According to the database, Nguyen had signed an open letter in the London Review of Books that was critical of Israel. The event was pulled from programming just hours before it was scheduled to start. For each entry, the index includes links to reporting on the cancellation.

Also mapped was the cancellation of a panel that included Berlin-based Palestinian artist Jumana Manna as part of a “Director’s Dialogue on Art and Social Change” at Ohio University’s Wexner Center for the Arts on November 14. Per the Art Censorship Index, the event was canceled in late October following after scrutiny was placed on Manna’s video Foragers, which focuses on the Israeli government’s “criminalization of the Palestinian practice of foraging wild plants.”

“Through this initiative, NCAC aims to raise awareness of this most recent trend of art censorship, advocate for the protection of artistic freedom, and empower individuals and organizations to identify and resist censorship efforts,” the NCAC said, adding that any suspected incidents of censorship can be submitted directly to the organization.

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