AUE statement against artistic censorship and in support of BDS campaigns

Updated: Apr 10, 2024

In January, the world’s highest court, the International Court of Justice, ruled that Israel is ‘plausibly’ committing genocide. In the months since, Israel has continued to act with apparent impunity. Gaza is now on the precipice of an engineered famine, many children have already died of malnutrition, and at least 32,000 people including 13,000 children have already been killed by the IDF. Al Shifa hospital has been destroyed along with almost all healthcare infrastructure, and there have been consistent reports of journalists, healthcare workers and aid workers being specifically targeted by Israeli forces. As the union for artists in England, we are appalled by the deliberate destruction of Palestinian culture in Gaza, including the many artists killed and cultural spaces destroyed. This includes Shababeek for Contemporary Art, the last remaining contemporary art space in Gaza, which was razed to the ground by the IDF alongside Al Shifa hospital. 

Within this context, it is clear that calls for a ceasefire alone are inadequate. Boycott and divestment campaigns are a historic and essential strategy of the labour movement, which contributed towards the end of apartheid in South Africa. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) supports the Right to Boycott and in 2019 Artists’ Union England moved a motion at Congress which called on the TUC to support efforts to halt any arms trade with Israel and to support Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions. In this moment Artist Union England re-affirms our support for all our members engaging in strategic BDS campaigns across our sector, including Art Not Genocide Alliance, BDZ (Boycott Divest Zabludowicz) and STRIKE OUTSET

We are extremely concerned by reports of ongoing attempts to blacklist artists who demonstrate their solidarity with Palestinians by signing up to such campaigns. We call on public institutions to stand by the artists they work with and proactively counter any demands to punish them for these political commitments. Our union will continue to monitor and investigate ongoing reports of censorship and blacklisting of artists in order to protect the rights and interests of our membership. 

These attempts to blacklist artists capitalise on an atmosphere of fear and repression stoked by Arts Council England’s recent attempt to change its guidance around reputational risk, and evidenced in the cancellation of cultural events around Palestine. In recent months, this has included the Barbican’s withdrawal from hosting Pankaj Mishra’s London Review of Books Winter Lecture, and HOME Manchester’s decision to cancelVoices of Resilience’, an evening celebrating Gazan writing (a decision now reversed due to artists withdrawing their work and widespread community pressure).

As the union for artists in England, we note the increasingly ‘risk-averse’ and repressive environment being fostered in the U.K for artists engaging with Palestine solidarity, and will continue to resist attempts to push the situation further towards the level of political repression experienced in Germany. Many artists, including our members, work internationally, and AUE continues to be concerned by the accelerated authoritarian cultural climate which has become so severe that thousands of artists have felt compelled to sign up to the Strike Germany campaign, and refuse to work there until artistic freedom is restored. The level of censorship has included Jewish artists such as Candice Breitz being labelled anti-semitic by German state institutions and having their exhibitions cancelled.

Our member Hamja Ahsan has faced the full force of this artistic repression following his participation in Documenta 15 in 2022. He continues to be pursued by the German media and representatives of the German state, including the far-right AfD party and politicians from parties across the political spectrum, in an Islamophobic campaign penalising him for his position of solidarity with Palestine. We express our full support for Hamja and artists everywhere who are facing repercussions for expressing international solidarity.

We stand with our members who choose to withdraw their labour or cultural capital in support of the Palestinian Campaign for the Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel (PACBI), and the union is actively representing members who have had their work censored, withdrawn, or cancelled in relation to their politics. 

In this climate, the importance of organising our labour and actively engaging in unions is clear. Come and join us, there is strength in numbers and power in a union!

In solidarity, 

Artists’ Union England  


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