For Immediate Release:12 May, 2011
Melbourne visual artist Van Thanh Rudd was informed by HRAFF (Human Rights Arts and Film Festival) organisers late yesterday that his artwork titled Pop Goes the System, which depicts Justin Bieber supporting Palestinian human rights, will be banned from the 2011 Human Rights Arts and Film Festival.
The artwork was to be part of a group exhibition, “Create an Example”, at No Vacancy Gallery in Melbourne’s QV shopping centre, opening on Thursday May 12 and closing on May 23rd.
Rudd’s artwork consists of two cartoons painted on both the front and back of a large piece of canvas. Once exhibited, it can be viewed from both sides. One side of the canvas depicts a cartoon figure ‘exploding with people power’ – a tribute to the democratic revolutions taking place in the Middle East and north Africa. The other side shows global pop icon Justin Bieber spray painting on Israel’s separation wall in support of the pro-Palestinian BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Campaign against Israel.
Inspired by the struggle of South Africans against apartheid, the Palestinian-initiated BDS campaign is conducted in the framework of international solidarity and resistance to injustice and oppression and calls for non-violent punitive measures to be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognise the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with international law.
According to Rudd, the exhibition organisers strongly opposed displaying the side of the canvas that depicted pop icon Justin Bieber spray painting on Israel’s dividing wall because it incited “racism”, “violence” and “division”. Bieber is shown painting a logo of Israeli-owned chocolate company, Max Brenner Chocolate, which has been a target of the non-violent boycott campaign due to its support of the Israel Defence Force units which participated in Operation Cast Lead, resulting in the death of more than 1300 Palestinians, the majority of whom were civilians, including 300 children.
“I wanted to imagine if Justine Bieber decided to support the BDS campaign – what impact that would have on the youth that worship him,” said Rudd.
“There is clearly no incitement of racism and violence in this artwork. It strongly opposes it. The incitement of racism and violence clearly comes from the Israeli state towards Palestinians. It maintains the world’s largest open air prison, conducts frequent military raids, maintains hundreds of military checkpoints, illegally constructs settlements and conducts massive military bombardments”.
Justin Bieber recently performed in Israel, defying the requests of Palestinian civil society and Israeli supporters of the Palestinian BDS campaign not entertain apartheid by playing in Israel. In a letter to Bieber, Israeli supporters from the Boycott from Within campaign called on Bieber to “create an example” and listen to the voices of the oppressed. http://www.boycottisrael.info/content/justin-bieber-you-can-choose-do-more-pray
Rudd had asked he be sent an official statement from the festival organisers as to the reasons for the artwork’s rejection. So far the organizers have refused to do so, informally saying the artwork ‘doesn’t fit the theme of the show’.
“This banning is not only antithetical to the quest for human rights and freedom of expression on a global scale against colonisation and occupation, it also infringes on the individual human right of freedom of expression through art”, says Rudd.
“The fact that a human rights arts festival bans an artwork that contributes to a discussion on very important human struggles, shows that they breach the very position they seek to uphold and are not committed to their own mission statement which advocates encouraging debate on human rights issues and providing festival patrons with a way to take action by connecting them to human rights campaigns ” http://hraff.org.au/festival-info/about/
“This week also happens to be the commemoration of the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe) – where over 60 years ago, over 750 000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homeland by Zionist forces. Today Palestinians make up the largest refugee community in the world, with more 7 million living in exile. So debate and action on the issue of human rights for Palestinians is crucial in their struggle for self-determination and human rights”, said Rudd.
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