The arts and performance festival Feminine Tripper is taking place in Oslo this week, with its main event planned to happen on March 24.
The festival program was put together after an open call diffused on social media in February. In that call for applications, the organisers wrote: "All artists can apply with performances, video works, poetry, music, installations, visual works, regardless of age, sex, gender and nationality." Despite the broadness of the initial proposal, applications from ten Israeli artists were refused based solely on their nationality. Five of them came together and wrote a public letter to the curators, opening a debate that has reached several vehicles in the Israeli media, as well as artists and cultural workers on social media.
A few days ago, the choreographer Mia Habib started a thread on her profile on Facebook, where she published copies of the correspondence between the festival curators Margrete Slettebø and Kristiane Nerdrum Bøgwald and the artists Eden Wiseman, Roni Rotem, Nitzan Lederman, Maayan Cohen Marciano and Adi Shildan, who argue that the festival's decision to boycott them is "encouraging division and the continuum of conflict, rather than setting an example of another path to the world". The curators issued a standard answer postponing the discussion to after the end of the festival. Habib followed up the post with a call for open dialogue between artists and curatorial board, arguing that: "These are sensitive matters and if the festival wants to boycott the artists in the other end, it needs to be handled with care and not be brushed under the carpet till later."
A non-answer answer
Slettebø answered the thread using her private profile, pointing to an until now unknown BDS-policy (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) from the festival's side and to the consequences of the Israeli occupation for Palestinian artists and the population in general: "The crucial point for us is that Israel is involved in an illegal occupation of the Palestinian people in Gaza and the Westbank (...), making free mobility for Palestinian artists and others impossible. This is the real discrimination." To others who brought up the issue on their Facebook profiles, the answer was the same, in what looks like a copy-paste attempt to calm down the moods in order to save the main festival event from the controversy. Instead of bringing clarification to their position as an art facilitating entity, Slettebø's answer falls in the vacuum of the official silence from the Feminine Tripper festival towards the public.
EDIT: Mia Habib's public thread:
The model who illustrates the Feminine Tripper poster (who I carefully cropped out of the picture that opens this post) has written a status claiming ownership of her own image, fearing that it will be connected to anti-semittism in media vehicles that cultivate increased polarisation in this question. The dancer Inés M. Belli, whose work was curated to be shown in the festival, has also expressed her uneasiness with the situation, exposing that she at last decided to maintain her performance on the program: "After consideration, I have chosen to show my work at the festival. That being said, I urge the festival directors to take responsability for their handling of the situation in respect to both the artist in question and all the programmed artist of the festival."
Feminine Tripper, please break the silence
The issue at this point is not how BDS-friendly or pro-Israel people are. It is the way the festival has chosen to deal with the rejected artists and those who have questioned their boycott. On their Facebook page, nothing indicates that the event is in the centre of serious political debate. EDIT: The festival has received a storm of polarised reviews, some of them containing hateful and violent speech.
The thread on Mia Habib's profile shows now a collection of statements that have one thing in common: they all urge the Feminine Tripper festival to break the silence. I ask hereby Kristiane Nerdrum Bøgwald and Margrete Slettebø to listen to these voices.
Finally: respectfully, but incisively, I feel the urge to address the curators with a few considerations:
The boycotted Israeli artists should by now have been publicly called to participate in this debate through an open platform facilitated by the festival, starting with an official statement reflecting upon how the boycott of individual artists can contribute to change on a macro political level, and explaining why the open call did not inform of the festival's BDS policy.
It is inappropriate to respond to such a debate on behalf of an international art festival using a private Facebook account, copying and pasting comments on threads, while protecting the main communication platform of the event, where cool pictures keep being posted as if nothing is happening. It is disrespectful towards the field one is part of and says one wants to dialogue with.
I really believe the Feminine Tripper festival is capable of handling this case in a way that can turn it into a positive earthquake in the arenas where art and curatorial practice meet politics. Please, break the silence.
EDIT: On March 19 Nitzan Lederman used her Facebook profile to publish
the latest letter from the festival to the artists, which she reposted on Habib's Facebook thread on March 22. In the letter, the curators give a more elaborated exposition of their reasons for the boycott, pointing to the BDS movement and to Slettebøs personal experience during her fieldwork in Israel and the occupied territories ten years ago. They write: "We are sorry if our decision afflicted Israeli artists that are opposing Israel's occupation policy. We realise that we in the future should make time to gather this information. (...) We welcome this discussion, but the main focus for us now is to welcome people to the very first edition of the festival Feminine Tripper."
On the evening of March 23, the festival issued a statement on their Facebook page. In Norwegian, a language the boycotted Israeli artists don't understand. I embedded the post, but it has apparently been deleted:
Golden Mirrors was present at the festival. Two of the participants on the program withdrew their performances. No mention was made to that or to any of the artists who were voicing an invitation to dialogue. The event was concluded with a celebration, a closing party with a DJ.
Unfortunately, Feminine Tripper missed an amazing opportunity to make the festival politically relevant beyond the polarisation stimulated by voices that are not interested in art or its value and potential as a dialogue facilitator. It is a pity for the participants who showed their works, that their precious contributions ended up in the shadow of such a disrespectful attitude towards the arts field.
Meanwhile, the voices of important artists were ignored.
Whatever statement from Feminine Tripper made in the aftermath of the event, in the sense of establishing a conversation with the Israeli artists and the international arts field, will be too little, too late. The momentum is gone, and so is the credibility of this festival as a political change agent.
P.S. I believe in peaceful and knowledge based dialogue as a tool for achieving understanding and conflict solution. Criticism and hate are two totally different things. I strongly condemn the hateful backlash the festival has experienced on social media.