Alistair Hudson has been asked to leave his post as director of the University of Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery following a kerfuffle regarding the posting of a statement of solidarity with Palestine as part of an exhibition last year. The text was part of the exhibition “Cloud Studies” by the Turner Prize–winning investigative agency Forensic Architecture, and read in part, “Forensic Architecture stands with Palestine. While working on this exhibition we witnessed with horror yet another attack by Israel’s occupation forces on Palestinians. Partners and friends in Gaza told us first-hand about their experiences of the attacks that destroyed multi storey buildings, homes, the offices of news organisations, schools, hospitals and businesses.”
The UK Lawyers for Israel (UKFLI), which advocates for Israeli causes, promptly complained, citing the text as “designed to provoke racial discord” through attempting to “falsely equate Israelis with white supremacists.” The Whitworth removed the statement, with the result that Forensic Architecture demanded the closure of its show; the Whitworth additionally received thousands of letters of protest in a blitz orchestrated by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. The statement was restored, this time with attendant space for responses aimed at contextualizing this issues raised by the exhibition.
The UKFLI continued to pressure the University of Manchester to demand disciplinary action, contending “the director of the Whitworth Art Gallery had falsely assured the vice-chancellor that they had established the accuracy and legalities of the work presented in the Forensic Architecture exhibition,” Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UKLFI, told The Guardian.
Eyal Weizman, a British Israeli professor at Goldsmiths and the founder of Forensic Architecture, was blunt in commenting on Hudson’s forced departure. “Alistair turned the Whitworth into an art space where the important questions of our time could be asked,” he said. “His sacking is the last in series of bullying actions by the University of Manchester, which initially aimed at silencing our solidarity with Palestinians, then at stifling open debate and taming political art more generally. This move will shrink the space for art and artists.”
For its part, the university asserted through a spokesperson, “We absolutely uphold academic freedom. Staffing matters are strictly internal to the university and we never comment on questions of this nature.”
Hudson is also the director of the university’s Manchester Art Gallery; whether he has been asked to depart his post there as well is not known at this time.