Earlier this week, the Kunsthalle Basel, a Swiss museum that has become a site of pilgrimage in the European art world for its cutting-edge exhibitions, announced a successor to Elena Filipovic, who left the institution to lead the Kunstmuseum Basel. The next leader will be Mohamed Almusibli, cofounder of the Geneva art space Cherish, who will also be chief curator of the Kunsthalle Basel.
But the appointment of Almusibli, 33, ended up making headlines for reasons other than the usual ones associated with new museum leadership.
The press in Basel has seized on an open letter Almusibli signed that was published by Artforum in October and demanded a ceasefire in Gaza. The Basler Zeitung ran an article noting Almusibli’s signature and claimed that it was a sign that Almusibli “condemns Israel.” Both the Basler Zeitung and the Basellandschaftliche Zeitung also said that Almusibli had signed a second letter put out by Artists for Palestine UK.
The Basler Zeitung report pointed out that neither letter initially included mention of the October 7 Hamas attack, and ended with a quote by Theodor Herzl, who helped conceive Zionism. The report called on the Basler Kunstverein, the association that operates the Kunsthalle Basel, to answer a series of questions about Almusibli’s hiring, including ones about whether the Yemeni-born curator could speak German and whether he could balance his political position with “showing artists of Jewish faith or Israeli origin at the Kunsthalle Basel in the future.”
In response, the Baseler Kunstverein said, “The Basel Art Association is pleased about the election of the Swiss curator Mohamed Almusibli as director and senior curator of the Kunsthalle Basel. Together, the Basel Art Association and Mr. Mohamed Almusibli condemn all forms of terrorism, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, discrimination, sexism and other group-related inhumanity.”
Speaking to the Basellandschaftliche Zeitung, Almusibli said, “I have to acknowledge that I have provoked accusations that are decidedly not in line with my opinion.” He expressed “deep concern on all sides with the current suffering in the Middle East.”
As the pressure continues to mount, hundreds of artists, critics, and gallerists have signed an open letter in support of Almusibli.
“We want to urge the Kunstverein Basel to continue to stand by its values – ones that are appreciated internationally by a large and diverse arts community – and to offer Mohamed Almusibli unwavering support against the growing pressures from political bodies as well as the local media,” that letter reads. “We want to urge you to protect Mohamed Almusibli from the demands of any further statements that are unrelated to his professional mandate. With this, we ask for you to take a stand against fascist repression that we are currently witnessing with unnameable shock across the arts and academia across continental Europe and the US.”
Among its signatories are artists Diego Marcon (whose show is currently on view at the Kunsthalle Basel), Iris Touliatou (who earlier this year had a show at the Kunsthalle Basel), Wu Tsang, Camille Henrot, Nick Mauss, Ser Serpas (who cofounded Cherish with Amusibli), Mai-Thu Perret, Sophia Al Maria, Hamishi Farah, Shuang Li, and Lydia Ourahmane; curators Simon Castets and Billy Tang; and dealers Simon Wang, Maxwell Grahm, and Rósza Farkas.