Our battle to restore a statement to a Manchester exhibition was really about what can and can’t be said in cultural spaces

On Wednesday, protesters in Manchester reclaimed one of the city’s main cultural institutions. Despite the rain, pro-Palestine activists gathered in front of the closed doors of the Whitworth gallery, part of the University of Manchester. It was because of their persistent action, and 13,000 letters sent to the gallery, that part of our exhibition, a printed statement titled “Forensic Architecture stands with Palestine”, has been reinstated. The exhibition, which we insisted be shut as a result of the statement’s unilateral removal, has now reopened.

On Sunday 15 August, a blog post on the website of UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) announced that, following the group’s intervention, the statement had been removed from our exhibition, Cloud Studies. When we first heard of the news, we were not altogether surprised. The same group had already criticised a statement of solidarity with Palestinians published on the Whitworth’s website in June, and succeeded in convincing the university to have it removed. And this was hardly UKLFI’s first attack on us as an organisation. In 2018, when we were nominated for the Turner prize, UKLFI urged the Tate not to award the prize to us on the outrageous grounds that documents that we had published in relation to Palestine amounted to “modern blood libels likely to promote antisemitism and attacks on Jews”.

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