Palestinian artist Mohamed Badarne has withdrawn from an exhibition with the Sharjah Art Foundation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to protest the Gulf country’s decision to normalize its relations with Israel in a Trump-brokered diplomatic agreement last week.
Badarne, who is currently based in Berlin, was slated to participate in the group exhibition Vantage Point Sharjah 8, opening on August 29.
On August 13, the day the agreement between Israel and the UAE was announced, Badarne sent a letter to the Sharjah Art Foundation demanding to withdraw his work from the exhibition. He later posted the letter on his Facebook account. It reads:
As the United Arab Emirates has just announced normalizing its relations with the Israeli occupation state, which continues to oppress and deprive the rights of my people in Palestine and the Arab communities, and following my belief that art, unless engaged with human causes and justice, has no value, I announce withdrawing my participation in your scheduled exhibition Vantage Point Sharjah 8 (VPS8) on August 29.
In an email to Hyperallergic, a spokesperson for the Sharjah Art Foundation wrote: “We regret that Mohamed Badarne’s voice will not be represented in Vantage Point Sharjah 8, but respect his decision and hope to work with him in the future. We will continue to work with and provide platforms for Palestinian artists and organizations through our exhibitions and programs, as part of our mission to support the practices of artists from the region and engage the public with their ideas.”
In an interview with Hyperallergic, Badarne said that he made the decision to pull out of the exhibition immediately after seeing the news about the agreement between Israel and the Gulf country.
“I didn’t hesitate for a moment, although the exhibition was a valuable opportunity to show my work, especially after the COVID-19 slumber,” he said. “The Sharjah Art Foundation is an extension of the Emirati government. I could not have a relationship with a regime that is now officially complicit in the Israeli occupation of Palestinians.”
The forthcoming exhibition is the eighth iteration of the Sharjah Art Foundation’s annual photography initiative. This year, it will present the work of over 30 photographers from more than 20 countries.
Badarne’s photographic series Everday Palestine (2015–2018) was one of the selected proposals. The series depicts the ordinary lives of Palestinians under the Israeli occupation: From children in unrecognized Bedouin villages that were flattened by Israeli bulldozers to a shop owner in the Old City of Jerusalem seen gazing helplessly as a group of Israeli soldiers patrols the streets. “The images show the routine violence that seeps into Palestinian lives without the sensational display of gunshots and bloodshed,” Badarneh said.
The UAE is the third Arab country to declare formal diplomatic relations with Israel, following Egypt and Jordan. The agreement made official years of covert trade relations and security cooperation between the two countries. As part of the deal, Israel has reportedly pledged to postpone its plan to annex parts of the West Bank in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. However, Isreal’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has later clarified that annexation is still “on the table.”
Badarne stressed that his move is “a statement against the Emirati regime, not the people of the country.”
“If any art organization in the UAE would denounce this agreement, I will be the first to praise it and participate in its projects,” he said.