Indiana University Cancels Palestinian Artist Samia Halaby’s Exhibition

Artist Samia Halaby (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Over 1,300 people have signed a petition urging Indiana University at Bloomington (IU) to reinstate a canceled retrospective of Palestinian artist Samia Halaby. The show, titled Centers of Energy, was originally scheduled to open at the institution’s Eskenazi Museum of Art (EMA) on February 10, but according to a missive penned by a board member of the artist’s foundation, Madison Gordon, the school abruptly canceled the show via email in late December, citing “safety concerns.”

Centers of Energy would have been the first retrospective of the 87-year-old abstract artist’s work in the United States. It was slated to include around 35 drawings, prints, and paintings created throughout the course of Halaby’s long career, spanning her time as a student at IU and Michigan State University (MSU) and her tenure as the first woman professor at the Yale School of Art. 

In response to Hyperallergic‘s request for comment, an IU spokesperson said that “academic leaders and campus officials canceled the exhibit due to concerns about guaranteeing the integrity of the exhibit for its duration” and did not provide any details about the nature of the “safety concerns.” The circulating petition, however, hypothesizes that the university’s decision is related to Halaby’s vocal pro-Palestine advocacy. In the months since Hamas’s October 7 attack and Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza, cultural institutions have canceled a slew of exhibitions and events featuring artists and curators who have expressed their support of Palestine.

“In the absence of any response from the administration, it is apparent that the University is canceling the show to distance itself from the cause of Palestinian freedom,” the petition text reads. “For 50 years, Samia has been an outspoken and principled activist for the dignity, freedom, and self-determination of the Palestinian people.”

Halaby has not yet replied to Hyperallergic’s request for comment. 

The exhibition was conceived as part of a two-pronged series to be displayed across both IU’s Eskenazi Museum and MSU’s Broad Art Museum (BAM). Per the institution’s website, the latter iteration of her survey, titled Eye Witness, is still scheduled to open on June 28. BAM Curator Rachel Winter and EMA Curator Elliot Josephine Leila Reichert, who organized the shows, said they had no comment.

While IU has removed mention of Halaby’s show from its museum website, an over 200-page catalogue titled Centers of Energy is still available for pre-sale with the University of Chicago Press.

“We hope the show is reinstated to honor their great work,” Gordon told Hyperallergic of Halaby’s, her studio’s, and the curators’ three years of planning. “And to send a message that Palestinian artists deserve a voice.”

The Jordanian-American, New York-based artist Samer Akroush, who goes by Ridikkuluz, publicized the petition on Instagram and lamented the news of the show’s last-minute closure in a statement to Hyperallergic. He noted that he is close friends with the exhibition’s two curators and that he had met the artist personally and admired her career’s recent growth.

“We were really hyped about this,” Ridikkuluz said. “She’s 87 now, and the world is slowly giving her her flowers.”

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