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The art sector isn't neutral: a guest blog from Art Workers for Palestine Scotland


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We're immensely grateful to be able to share this guest blog by Art Workers for Palestine Scotland, outlining their story so far.

Art Workers for Palestine Scotland started in May 2021, with Israel’s attacks on Sheikh Jarrah. We formed in the wake of what felt like a key turning point in Palestinian resistance, as the general strike called in May/June was the first since 1936 and the "Unity Intifada, The Manifesto of Dignity and Hope" was a symbolic moment of resistance across all of historic Palestine. A small group of artists decided to respond to this public declaration of resistance and renewed hope, and Art Workers was formed.

We noticed a real taboo in the arts sector across Scotland of speaking about Palestine. One of our immediate aims was simply to break this silence, or at least expose it. Initially, we had conversations about how to break the silence, as well as how to try to change things within institutions. We wanted to highlight the fact that this huge swelling of support and love for Palestine among our art workers comrades wasn’t being reflected in our workplaces.

Eventually, we decided to hold space through reading to learn about Palestinian culture and poetry. We read texts including Mohammed El-Kurd's Rifqa, poems in honour of his grandmother; Jumana Manna, ‘Where Nature Ends and Settlements Begin’; and Ahed Tamini, They Called Me a Lioness: A Palestinian Girl’s Fight for Freedom. This was a key way to connect with a group of people who had been so dehumanised by the forces of imperialism for over a century. We felt that listening to their voices, their stories, their poetry and their expressions was key to our work. It also enabled us to deepen our solidarity in order to better articulate what Palestinians were experiencing, as well as to amplify artistic figures in Palestine, the diaspora and across Scotland.

The Art Workers group grew significantly in October 2023, and the work expanded to centre on research, information campaigns and direct action. Again, all of this work was grounded in a desire to break the silence around Palestine across cultural organisations in Scotland. A key inspiration was the demand from London-based group, Sisters Uncut, for 'no more business as usual,' which became a de facto slogan for our direct actions. We focus our work on arts—no more business as usual in the arts, no more pretending that a genocide isn’t happening.

We work to expose the institutional silence around Palestine through our index of Scottish Cultural Institutions which records stances towards the Palestinian liberation movement. The index tracks a large cross section of cultural organisations across Scotland and whether or not they have made meaningful statements or committed to meaningful action in support of Palestine. Our direct actions, like the sit-ins we organised at Kelvingrove, GOMA and the National Galleries of Scotland, draw attention to both the institutional silence around genocide and the imperial histories of much of the UK’s art establishment.

We are currently working on a divestment campaign to demand Baillie Gifford divest from three companies—Cemex, Cisco Systems and Booking Holdings—which have been condemned by numerous human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and the United Nations, for their business involvement in the illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine. Baillie Gifford is a significant funder for culture across Scotland, including Collective, Fruitmarket, National Galleries of Scotland and Scottish Ballet, but its investments in these companies are not in line with the commitment to social justice that is expected from Scotland's cultural organisations by its art worker communities.

Art Workers continues to work to break the taboo of silence around Palestine in the arts sector in Scotland, particularly in this critical time of genocide and mass displacement. We reject the idea of an arts sector that views itself as a neutral space, alienated from the concerns of real life.

Do check out the essential work done by Art Workers for Palestine and extended networks through their instagram page. If you work in the art industry in any way, there's a place for you to get involved.

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