Laurie Anderson ends German professorship over pro-Palestine stance

University questions acclaimed musician and writer's political stance after signed letter condemning forced evictions in 2021 re-emerges

Laurie Anderson is an acclaimed visual artist, musician and writer. Getty Images
Powered by automated translation

American artist Laurie Anderson is the latest public figure to be penalised for her pro-Palestine stance.

Anderson, 76, has lost her coming professorship at the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen, Germany, after a pro-Palestine letter she signed in 2021 recently resurfaced. She was due to begin teaching on April 1.

Live updates: Follow the latest from Israel-Gaza

The letter, titled Letter Against Apartheid, was signed by a collective of more than 16,000 artists, authors and publishers. Signatories included Pulitzer Prize-winning writers Annie Baker, Tony Kushner, Hisham Matar and Viet Thanh Nguyen as well as acclaimed authors Ta-Nehisi Coates, Sally Rooney and Ocean Vuong among others.

The letter was written as a response to a new wave of violence that erupted in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah when Palestinian families protested against Jewish settler groups.

"This is not a conflict. This is apartheid,” the letter said. It called on "governments that are enabling this crime against humanity to apply sanctions ... and to cut trade, economic and cultural relations with Israel".

In a statement released on Monday, the university said Anderson had withdrawn from the professorship and referenced the 2021 letter.

"The university engaged in talks with Laurie Anderson and the Pina Bausch Foundation to discuss the extent to which Anderson would be able to carry out her planned artistic project at the Folkwang University of the Arts and ensure uninterrupted, focused work at this time," it read.

"In light of the now public question regarding her political stance, Laurie Anderson has decided to withdraw from the professorship.

"Discussion and dialogue are indeed key pillars in the general philosophy of the Folkwang University of the Arts. However, art, culture and science should remain places where the boundaries of dialogue are open and expansive as a matter of principle, and where contentious issues are kept in check. The university strictly rejects any form of antisemitism, misanthropy or racism."

The Pina Bausch Foundation, named after a Folkwang alumna, sponsors the professorship.

Anderson said her decision to withdraw was "the best way forward".

"For me, the question isn’t whether my political opinions have shifted," she said. "The real question is this: 'Why is this question being asked in the first place?'

"Based on this situation I withdraw from the project."

Anderson is due to receive a Lifetime Achievement honour at the Grammy Awards on Sunday. She is being honoured for her contribution of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording, the Recording Academy said.

She has been nominated for six Grammys throughout her career and won in 2019 for Landfall, a collaborative album with the Kronos Quartet.

Israeli forces have killed almost 27,000 Palestinians – mostly women and children – in Gaza since the war began in October.

Updated: February 01, 2024, 8:45 AM