The New Delhi-based art collective Party Office, which had planned to present a public program at Documenta in Kassel, has canceled the event, saying it does not feel safe in the city after collective member Joey Cannizzaro along with two others in attacked in an anti-LGBTQ+ and racist incident.
The public program, scheduled for Wednesday July 13, was to focus on how marginalized groups are “doing important work in their survival files,” the panel described.
“If you are transgender, a person of color or honestly anyone, please do not come to Kassel Germany or Documenta 15,” Cannizzaro said wrote on Instagram, adding that he and his colleagues have faced racial harassment and intimidation.
On July 2, just days after the Party Office and other artists held a meeting with Documenta management over security issues, Cannizzaro and two others were harassed and followed by six men. When police arrived, they reportedly accused the artists of not having their passports with them.
Cannizzaro claims he was handcuffed and held in custody for an hour, and accused the documenta of “doing absolutely nothing to protect us or to warn the public and artists that they are in danger here”.
“The Documenta 15 put me and hundreds of others it invited to this neo-Nazi city in danger,” the artist claimed. “I never thought I would leave with this level of trauma, disgust, outrage and fear for my friends and associates who remain here.”
“We don’t feel safe enough at the moment,” a member of the party’s office told Artnet News on condition of anonymity.
A Documenta spokesman was asked for comment and said he took the incident “extremely seriously”.
“We are in contact with the party office artists involved and the relevant local authorities to clarify the circumstances surrounding the incident,” the spokesman said, declining to comment further.
Artnet News has reached out to local police for comment.
But the party bureau contacted by Artnet News said that was not enough. “You’re just taking responsibility for our artwork,” they said. “The institution must take responsibility for and respect the individual and their physical safety.”
The Party Office was founded in 2020 by the artist and curator Vidisha-Fadescha and described as an “anti-caste, anti-racist, trans-feminist art and social space”. It was invited to participate in the Documenta under the curatorship of the Indonesian artist collective Ruangrupa.
As part of the show, Party Office in Kassel staged an exhibition with a video installation by Vidisha-Fadescha. The founder of the party office, along with curator Shauank Mahbubani, also put together a presentation titled Queer Time: Kinships & Architectures that includes a dungeon and kink elements. The location for this exhibition is the same as that used by the Palestinian collective The Question of Funding, which was vandalized in May.
Since then, the Party Office has instituted a controversial door policy that bans “white cis men” from entering.
“People were constantly unsafe in that room,” said the party bureau member.
A group of local BIPOC urged the show’s management into action.
“We challenge curatorial team members, particularly those coming from the Global South, to better engage with local histories, political actors and their communities, to defend themselves from aggressive, patronizing, white attitudes of censorship, and Silence,” the group said. “White institutions will not protect you.”
The party office will keep its exhibition for the time being, but wants to move the public program outside of Kassel. Some events will take place in Berlin in early August, others will be virtual. Further details will be announced later.
Controversy and scandal are swirling around this year’s documenta, particularly after an anti-Semitic artwork by Indonesian collective Taring Padi titled popular justice (2002) has been removed.
Artist Hito Steyerl then removed her work from the exhibition, saying she had “no faith” in the documenta’s management. Meron Mendel, the director of the Anne Frank Educational Institute, also resigned from his position as a consultant.
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