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German City Rescinds Support for Art Prize after Artist Refused to Denounce BDS Movement

Above: Walid Raad.
Above: Walid Raad.

AACHEN, GERMANY—After a jury unanimously chose the Lebanese artist Walid Raad as the winner of the 2018 Aachen Art Prize, the German city of Aachen withdrew from the $10,900 biennial award when it learned that Raad allegedly supports the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to use economic and political pressure on Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank and grant full equality to Palestinian citizens.

On Monday, the city, which is located near Germany’s borders with Belgium and the Netherlands, issued a statement calling the BDS movement anti-Semitic. The mayor of Aachen, Marcel Philipp, reached out to the artist after the city “received indications that Raad is close to the Israeli-critical organization BDS.” The city’s cultural administration reviewed the information in May and shared it with the mayor and representatives of the Friends of the Ludwig Forum for International Art, which also administers the award along with Aachen’s business community.

In September, the mayor sent Raad a letter asking for “clarification of his position on the movement.” According to Philipp, Raad’s answer was “elusive,” and since he did not “dispel” the city’s concern over his involvement in the BDS movement, Aachen cannot honor him. While it is unclear if the artist will still receive the full amount of the monetary prize, according to a spokesperson for the city of Aachen, the Friends of Ludwig and the business community are still committed to presenting Raad with the award, which includes an exhibition of the artist’s work at the Ludwig Forum. Aachener Zeitung reports that acting chair of the Friends of Ludwig, Iva Haendly-Dassen, said that the entire board was supposed to meet Tuesday to discuss how the organization will move forward.

Two weeks ago, the Nelly Sachs Prize jury voted to revoke the award of the city of Dortmund from the British Pakistani author Kamila Shamsie over her participation in the BDS movement. The decision was backed by the Association of German Writers. In May, German Parliament passed a resolution against the BDS movement, which it declared calls into question Israel’s right to exist. It also vowed not to fund organizations associated with the movement.

Artforum has reached out to Raad and the Friends of Ludwig for comment. This post will be updated.

October 7, 2019