Last month, France appointed French-Algerian artist Zineb Sedira as the representative for the country in the 2021 Venice Biennale. Since then, Sedira has been criticised for her alleged support of the Palestinian-led BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, a boycott campaign that demands the withdrawal of Israel from occupied territories and the removal of the West Bank separation wall.
Amidst calls for the French ministry of culture to "renounce" the artist's nomination, Sedira has released a statement, published in full by the Art Newspaper, making clear that will not stand down.
“I have decided to not renounce representing France at the next Venice Biennale, despite this attempt to silence me and infringe on my freedom of expression,” she wrote.
Among her most outspoken critics is Isart, a group that promotes cultural exchange between France and Israel. The group’s director addressed a letter to French culture minister Franck Riester in January which stated that “the Paris art world” was “shocked by your choice of Zineb Sedira as the French representative [for the 2021 biennale].”
The letter cites a specific incident to back its claims about Sedira's supposed BDS connection. It refers to the artist’s decision to withdraw from the 2017 Mediterranean biennial in the Arab city of Sakhin, Israel. A now-deleted Facebook post – not created by the artists – supposedly shows Sidera stating that the move was done to oppose Israel and support BDS.
However, Sedira, along with artists Yto Barrada and Bouchra Khalili, had stated that their decision to pull their works from the exhibition was because a French art organisation loaned the works to the biennial without seeking the artists’ approval. She also added that she was not associated with the creator of the Facebook post.
"I felt honoured at receiving the news to represent France at the Venice biennale 2021. I recognised it as a major shift for French contemporary art and our shared history: an Arab-Berber-Algerian-French woman based in London representing France," Sedira also wrote in her statement, the full version of which appears in the Art Newspaper.
“What I was not prepared for was the level of discrimination and intimidation, in response to my nomination. I have been the target of defamatory accusations which aim not only at opposing my nomination, but also to cut me from my affiliations – artistic and intellectual friendships and solidarities.”