New East Digital Archive

Manifesta 10 sticking with Russia despite calls for boycott

Manifesta 10 sticking with Russia despite calls for boycott
An exhibition at Manifesta 9 in Genk, Belgium. Photograph: Yohan Creemers under a CC licence

11 March 2014

Manifesta 10, the nomadic biennial of contemporary art, will go ahead with the upcoming event in St Petersburg despite an online petition signed by European artists calling for the suspension of the festival until Russian troops are withdrawn from Ukraine.

In a statement on the Manifesta website published today, festival curator Kasper König said: “I feel very strongly about the necessity of the biennial — for St Petersburg and for the public. The exhibition is part of a larger process involving art, education, public discussions, civil developments, and more.” Konig added that the decision to go ahead with the event did not imply support for military action in Ukraine. He said: “To stop our work for any reason other than its literal and practical impossibility is not an answer to the current situation.”

More than 1,500 artists have signed the petition, which was launched by German and Dutch artists earlier this month in response to “Russian aggression” towards Ukraine. The petition was addressed to König and Mikhail Piotrovsky, the director general of the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg where Manifesta is due to be held later this year. “We believe that participation in cultural activities with Russia at this time means legitimisation and acceptance of Russian aggression towards the democratic nation of Ukraine,” the letter read.

A more general statement on the Manifesta website said: “We believe that cancelling the project plays directly into the current escalation of the ‘cold war’ rhetoric and fails to acknowledge the complexity of these geopolitics … Manifesta 10 will continue monitoring the situation in Ukraine and we are hopeful for a successful diplomatic solution — one that mediates this volatile situation with enormous care and strives for a peaceful outcome.”

Last September, a petition launched by Noel Kelly, an Irish artist and curator, urged Manifesta to change location to protest Russia’s anti-gay laws. In a statement at the time, Hedwig Fijen, director of Manifesta, said: “To withdraw would mean to ignore the voices of our contemporaries and emerging generations in Russia. In developing this project in Russia we have listened to representatives of Russia’s LGBT communities and have overwhelmingly heard that Manifesta’s presence is both welcome and necessary.”

The EU-funded biennial of contemporary art has been hosted in a different European city every two years since its launch in 1996. Since then, it has only been cancelled once when it was due to be held in Nicosia, the divided capital city of Cyprus. Increasing tension between the festival’s three curators and Nicosia for Art, the city-run nonprofit organisation sponsoring the exhibition, resulted in the event’s cancellation.