Palestinian artist Samia Halaby’s retrospective cancelled by Indiana University

The exhibition was set to showcase more than 30 works from the celebrated Arab artist's career

An online petition to reinstate artist Samia Halaby's exhibtion at Indiana University has been signed by more than 11,000 people. Photo: Ayyam Gallery
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Palestinian artist, scholar and activist Samia Halaby’s first US retrospective has been cancelled.

Due to open on February 10 at Indiana University's Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, the exhibition, titled Samia Halaby: Centers of Energy, had been in the works for more than three years.

A petition to reinstate the retrospective, curated by Elliot Josephine Leila Reichert, has since been launched.

As reported in The New York Times, Halaby received a call from David Brenneman, the director of the museum, in December, informing her that employees have expressed concerns about her social media posts in regards to the Israel-Gaza war.

Halaby has continuously posted her support for the Palestinian cause, particularly focusing on child victims of the violence.

Halaby then received a note from Brenneman, officially cancelling the show.

“I write to formally notify you that the Eskenazi Museum of Art will not host its planned exhibition of your work,” The New York Times quotes the letter as saying.

Halaby, is one of the leading Arab abstract painters and an influential scholar of Palestinian art. Although she has lived in the US since 1951, Halaby has been recognised for her pioneering work in the the field of contemporary abstraction as an Arab artist.

She studied at Indiana University, achieving a masters in fine art from the institution in 1963, and in 1969, she joined the IU tenured faculty.

Throughout her career, Halaby has also been very vocal about her Palestinian heritage.

As part of her cancelled show, more than 30 works, including drawings, prints and paintings created throughout her career were going to be showcased – from her time as a student at IU and Michigan State University to her tenure as the first woman professor at the Yale School of Art.

With Madison Gordon, a board member of Halaby’s foundation, the artist has launched an online petition to reverse the university’s decision and reinstate the planned exhibition next month.

According to the petition, Halaby "privately appealed the decision to IU President Pamela Whitten", however chose to go public after "receiving no response" in the hope that public support will see the exhibition reinstated.

“In the absence of any response from the administration, it is apparent that the University is cancelling 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.”

The petition currently has more than 11,000 signatures with the goal of reaching 12,800.

“Clearly the intent is to suppress Palestinian voices at this very time,” Halaby said to the publication Hyperallergic.

“If that were not their intention why not accept my offer to meet with them and clear matters? Why did they not speak up during the three long years of preparation?”

Halaby recently had her first retrospective in the Middle East entitled Lasting Impressions: Samia Halaby, which ran at the Sharjah Art Museum from September 20 until January 7, showcasing 180 works from across the artist’s career.

The National has contacted Halaby and Reichert for comment.

Updated: January 14, 2024, 9:48 AM