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Israeli artist and curators decline to show work at Venice Biennale, call for ceasefire

The artist and curators representing Israel at this year's Venice Biennale announced Tuesday they won't open the Israeli pavilion exhibition until there is a ceasefire in Gaza and an agreement to release hostages.

'The time for art is lost': Artist Ruth Patir, curator also call for return of all hostages being held

Two women are shown standing by a sign that is posted on a door calling for a ceasefire.

The artist and curators representing Israel at this year's Venice Biennale announced Tuesday they won't open the Israeli pavilion exhibition until there is a ceasefire in Gaza and an agreement to release hostages.

Their decision was posted on a sign in the window of the Israeli national pavilion on the first day of media previews, just days before the Biennale contemporary art fair opens Saturday.

"The art can wait, but the women, children and people living through hell cannot," the curators said in a statement together with the artist that expressed horror at both the plight of Palestinians in Gaza and relatives of hostages taken from Israel.

Israel is among 88 national participants in the 60th Venice Biennale, which runs from April 20 to Nov. 24. The exhibition in the Israeli national pavilion was Motherland by artist Ruth Patir.

There was no immediate comment from Biennale organizers.

Even before the preview, thousands of artists, curators and critics had signed an open letter calling on the Biennale to exclude the Israeli national pavilion from this year's show to protest Israel's war in Gaza. Those opposed to Israel's presence had also vowed to protest onsite.

Italy's culture minister had firmly backed Israel's participation, and the fair was opening amid unusually heightened security.

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Written in English, the announcement Tuesday of Israel's delayed opening read: "The artist and curators of the Israeli pavilion will open the exhibition when a ceasefire and hostage release agreement is reached." Two Italian soldiers stood guard nearby.

In a statement, Patir said she and the curators wanted to show solidarity with the families of the hostages "and the large community in Israel who is calling for change."

"As an artist and educator, I firmly object to cultural boycott, but I have a significant difficulty in presenting a project that speaks about the vulnerability of life in a time of unfathomed disregard for it," Patir said in the statement.

The Israeli government believes there are about 130 hostages remaining in Gaza since Oct. 7, when militant group Hamas led a deadly attack in southern Israel.

Israeli government helps fund work

Patir, whose work for Venice includes video of ancient fertility statues as a commentary on women's roles, was chosen last year to represent Israel by a panel of arts professionals appointed by the Israeli culture ministry.

Israel's exhibit was partially funded by the Israeli government. It made no immediate comment on Patir's decision to shutter the show.

A woman takes a photo as a soldier wearing a hat and camouflage clothing stands nearby in front of a closed building.

Adriano Pedrosa, the Brazilian curator of the main show at the Biennale, praised the gesture.

"It's a very courageous decision," Pedrosa told The Associated Press. "I think it's a very wise decision as well," because it is "very difficult to present a work in this particular context."

The national pavilions at Venice are independent of the main show, and each nation decides its own show, which may or may not play into the curator's vision.

Palestinian artists are participating in events in Venice outside of the main exhibition, and three Palestinian artists' works are to appear in Pedrosa's main show, titled Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere, which has a preponderance of artists from the global south.

Pedrosa, the artistic director of Brazil's Sao Paulo Museum of Art, said one of the Palestinian artists — New York-based Khaled Jarrar — was not physically in Venice because he couldn't get a visa.

Geopolitical events have impacted the Biennale before. The festival discouraged, and then banned, South Africa's participation during apartheid. Russian artists withdrew their participation in 2022 to protest the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine, and the Biennale said Russia did not request to participate in this year's edition.

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