Laurie Anderson Loses German Professorship Over Pro-Palestine Letter

Visual artist, musician, and filmmaker Laurie Anderson is the latest target of Germany’s crackdown on speech critical of Israel. After accepting a professorship at the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen earlier this month, Anderson and the school jointly announced her resignation on Friday, January 26, citing the artist’s endorsement of a “Letter Against Apartheid” over two years ago.

The university claims that the 2021 missive, signed by about 16,000 artists among them Nan Goldin, Emily Jacir, and Kara Walker, “takes up boycott demands of the anti-Israeli BDS [Boycott, Divest, Sanctions] movement,” an initiative the German parliament equated with antisemitism in a 2019 resolution. While the 2021 letter does not mention the BDS movement by name, it calls on international governments to impose sanctions on Israel, among a number of other demands.

“Against the background of the question of her political stance, which has now become public, Laurie Anderson has finally decided to withdraw from the professorship,” the university’s statement reads.

Anderson has not responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, but offered her perspective in a statement printed below the university’s announcement.

“For me the question isn’t whether my political opinions have shifted. The real question is this: Why is this question being asked in the first place?” Anderson’s statement reads. “Based on this situation I withdraw from the project.” The artist added that she discussed the situation with the university and the Pina Bausch Foundation, a partial sponsor of the professorship, “at great length.”

“We jointly decided this is the best way forward,” she wrote.

Earlier this month, the Berlin Senate introduced a bill that would have forced cultural workers receiving state funding to “make a commitment against anti-Semitism.” The definition of “antisemitism” employed by the government, adopted from that of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), comprises speech “demonizing the state of Israel, comparing Israeli policy with the actions of the Nazis and denying the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.”

The initiative was withdrawn earlier this week in the wake of outrage from the international arts community. Nearly 6,000 creators, including artist Jumana Manna and 2024 Turner Prize winner Jesse Darling, signed an open letter denouncing the pending legislation. More than 1,400 people including artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan and writers Mohammed El-Kurd and Annie Ernaux signed another missive affirming their commitment to “Strike Germany,” an ongoing campaign urging creative workers to boycott the country’s heavily state-funded art institutions and decrying the nation’s “McCarthyist policies.”

Other cultural figures and organizations critical of Israel, including author Masha Gessen, Forensic Architecture, and artist Adam Broomberg, have also seen their work stifled in Germany in recent months.

On Friday, January 26, the United Nations’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) fell short of ordering an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, where Israeli forces have killed over 26,600 Palestinians since the October 7 Hamas attack in which 846 Israeli civilians were killed. The ICJ’s ruling on the case — brought by South Africa — demanded that Israel “take all reasonable measures within their power to prevent genocide” but avoided naming Israel’s ongoing bombardments of Gaza a “genocide.”

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