Banner being removed at German art show in antisemitism feud

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BERLIN (AP) — An Indonesian art collective’s banner that was widely criticized as containing antisemitic elements was covered up at a major art show in Germany and was to be taken down on Tuesday, officials said.

The large installation by Taring Padi, titled “People’s Justice,” drew objections after it was put up in a central square in the city of Kassel as part of the documenta contemporary art show.

Criticism centered on the depiction on the banner of a soldier with the face of a pig, wearing a neckerchief with a Star of David and a helmet inscribed with the word “Mossad,” the name of Israel’s intelligence agency.

On Monday, the Israeli Embassy in Berlin said it was “appalled by the antisemitic elements” that were being shown in Kassel and called for their immediate removal from the exhibition. It said that “they have absolutely nothing to do with free expression of opinion, but are an expression of an old-style antisemitism.”

Organizers said Monday — three days after it went up — that the work would be covered up, in what they said was a joint decision with the art collective. On Tuesday, Kassel Mayor Christian Geselle said that it would be taken down altogether during the day.

Germany’s culture minister, Claudia Roth, said in a statement that its removal was “overdue” and “is only a first step.”

“More must follow,” she added. “It must be cleared up how it was possible for this mural with antisemitic figurative elements to be installed there.”

This year’s documenta, which already had faced antisemitism allegations, opened on Saturday.

In a statement posted on its Facebook page after the decision to cover the banner, Taring Padi insisted that the work — which it said was first exhibited at the South Australia Art Festival in Adelaide 20 years ago — “is in no way related” to antisemitism. It said “all of the figures depicted on the banner refer to symbolism that is widespread in Indonesia’s political context.”

“We are sorry that details of this banner are misunderstood other than their original purpose. We apologize for the injuries caused in this context,” it said.

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