Bringing together artists and activists, the BDZ campaign aims to evolve into a wider movement to achieve equality and dignity for all Palestinian people
The potential of collective action within the visual arts to unify individual struggles makes our voices harder to ignore. The impact of meaningful change is evidenced by the work of Boycott Zabludowicz (BDZ). BDZ is a movement of artists, activists and academics established to align in solidarity with Palestinian arts organisations to oppose the ongoing violence against Palestinians by the Israeli military. It was catalysed by the 2014 massacres in Gaza, when more than 2000 Palestinians, including 500 children, were killed by Israeli security forces in Operation Protective Edge – a seven-week period of sustained airstrikes which included targeting civilian homes, something cited by Amnesty International as a serious human rights violation. Though there were casualties on both sides, the impact on Gaza’s Palestinian population and infrastructure was disproportional. In 2021, Israel broke the ceasefire which was brokered as a response to the events of 2014, beginning airstrikes in Gaza, thus garnering a new wave of support of BDZ’s boycott. The list of signatories is now in the hundreds.
Specifically, BDZ draws attention to the internal structures of the Zabludowicz Art Trust. The organisation’s owners and sources of funding are connected to lobbying activities on behalf of the Israeli state and to a company providing services to the Israeli Air Force. The Zabludowicz Art Trust stands accused of artwashing; publicly presenting itself as a ‘progressive’ organisation through visibly supporting emerging artists. This in turn obfuscates the nefarious actions of the trust in order to legitimise their wider activities. On 21 May 2021, Anita and Poju Zabludowicz released a statement in response to BDZ, saying: “We passionately support a Two-State Solution that guarantees the rights of Palestinians and Israelis to live and work side-by-side in peace.” This statement has been criticised by platforms such as The White Pube, which highlights the disparity between the Zabludowicz public statements and financial records.
The success of boycotts in international campaigns is well-documented. Indeed, it was an integral aspect of opposing South Africa’s apartheid regime from the 1960s through to the 1980s. Alongside encouraging signatories to avoid visiting and working with Zabludowicz, BDZ supports artists who have been previously commissioned by the trust to de-author their art – publicly removing their name as an act of protest and devaluation.
Here, Jamila Prowse talks to members of BDZ about their tactics and motivations and the benefits of instigating a boycott.
BJP: What are the aims of BDZ?
BDZ: BDZ’s aims and objectives emerge through, and build upon, campaigns to divest from and boycott the Israeli state in solidarity with Palestine. In 2004, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel [PACBI] called for international solidarity and action to end apartheid, and to support the existing work and resistance of Palestinians living under occupation. In 2015, Artists for Palestine launched a pledge, calling on British artists and audiences to support Palestinian human rights, and demanding the end of the Israeli state’s apartheid regime. Responding to calls for solidarity from Palestinian arts organisations, BDZ recognise the vital role of artists and cultural workers in speaking out against the suppression of Palestinian culture, and in opposing all attempts to suppress resistance and criticism of the Israeli state’s ongoing violence. Although BDZ closely focuses on the Zabludowicz Art Trust and its operations, we hope the BDZ campaign can contribute towards the wider movement that continues to work towards ending support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. This movement aims to pressure the Israeli state into complying with international law and human rights, with the aim of achieving equality and dignity for all Palestinian people and refugees.
The funding and structural models of arts institutions are often hidden. How can we begin to expose what occurs in the background, and what do you think the value of this is?
Artwashing is rife. We see the institutionalisation of critique, where galleries programme progressive critical content, but are themselves supported by funders or patrons who directly engage with violently oppressive regimes or compromised corporations. We hope BDZ’s work will encourage artists to demand transparency from institutions, galleries and funders, in order to clarify how much people are being paid, and where, and from whom, that money comes. This need for transparency goes beyond individual artists being able to make informed decisions about who they work with; demystifying the money, power and political bias at work within these institutions also creates the potential for cultural workers to demand deeper systemic change.
How has the response been to the campaign so far? Have you had any significant outcomes, and where do you hope to take it next?
The response has been significant in a number of ways. There are increasing numbers of artists and art workers coming forward to ‘de-author’ and divest their work as part of a process that is very much ongoing. Many art workers are now recognising that divestment and disaffiliation from their past actions is possible, has meaning, can affect change, and will contribute to broaden and strengthen the boycott. We’re also beginning to forge relationships with art workers in the US, where it appears that links between Daata Editions and the Zabludowicz Art Trust are less well-known, and we’re encouraged to see some ripple effects appearing there too.
At the same time, we are trying to work with boycott signatories to pressure and support institutions to divest – for which BDZ have consulted existing precedents and received legal advice to ensure institutions can take action without risking their charitable status. Throughout this process, we reiterate the campaign’s aims and objectives, recentring the Palestinian struggle, and avoiding – as much as possible – any focus on individual art workers. By working collectively, we aim to ensure BDZ’s sustained activity outlives any short-term cycles of press attention. Our solidarity in refusal is our greatest strength, through which we can bring about real social change.