Israeli Art Gallery ‘Steals’ Arab Art Without Artists’ Consent

An Israeli art gallery wanted to make a point about Israel's attitude toward the Arab world by stealing their art. It didn't work out.

An Israeli art gallery seems unfazed by its idea to steal Arab art and display it without the consent of the artists.

But then again, the gallery's art director appears to think the message behind the exhibit is worth the trouble.

The Stolen Arab Art exhibit, hosted by the 1:1 Centre for Art and Politics in Tel Aviv, shows art by prominent contemporary Arab artists. Some of the pieces include video artworks created by six Arab acclaimed artists that are not properly credited. One of the artists, Egyptian Wael Shawky, was not happy when he learned his art had been literally stolen.  

"What is the point of being a thief and so proud of your act?" he asked reporters.

But according to the art gallery, the goal with stealing Arab art is to make a point about Israel’s attitude toward the Arab world.

"By delineating these political and geographic boundaries we wish to call attention to Israel’s exclusion from the Middle East family," the gallery said in a statement. With Stolen Arab Art, they intend "to promote a shared reality marked by open dialogue and exchange throughout the Middle East, without wars, occupation, or any borders."

Omer Krieger, the gallery’s artistic director, added that he initially contacted the artists, but many either completely ignored him or told him they did not want to be part of the exhibit.

"This time, it was a conscious choice for unilateral engagement. There was no attempt at coexistence or normalization [in the show]," he told reporters.

Still, Shawky did not approve of the gallery’s idea.

"This will never change anything — all these artists, including myself, are against showing in Israel. They [the gallery] made the point even clearer,” he said.

The art being displayed is not being attributed to the artists, the gallery explained, because they assumed no Arab artist would want to see their art being displayed in Israel. Still, neither of its explanations regarding the use of stolen art was enough to satisfy Shawky, who’s now looking into taking legal action against 1:1 Centre for Art and Politics.

While the goal behind Stolen Arab Art appears to be a noble one, it might not be worth actually stealing art from a people already tired of calling out Israel for using their culture without consent — all while trying to deny Palestinians the right over their own land.

Perhaps displaying empty gallery walls and calling it Arab art instead would have made an even greater impact.


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