‘…a consciousness for which the possibility that people no longer have to die has nothing horrible about it, but is, on the contrary, that which one actually wants…’¹
The current ongoing institutional relationship between Goldsmiths University and The Zabludowicz Art Trust, which has economic and ideological connections to the Israeli State’s systematic oppression of Palestinians, is maintained annually through the MFA in Curating course, which each year has facilitated an invitation to take part in “Testing Ground for Art and Education”. This is an unpaid “opportunity” presented in the first term of the first year of the course, where new students are granted access to the Zabludowicz Art Trust’s art collection to curate a public show. The relationship is defended by the head of curating and the head of fine art as an educational opportunity, where new students from all over the globe are presented with the liberty of considering the difficult and complicated moral implications of the faustian collaboration with the artists who still continue to accept and maintain the authorship of their work within the Zabludowicz Collection². The argument against this relationship has always been that whilst the Zabludowicz Collection may remain itself a legitimate object of study and critique for artists and curators, it is not a fitting partner for an educational institution. It may be an obvious point of reference, but when attention was drawn to LD50 gallery’s hosting of a series of racist and white supremacist talks in 2016, and the delusional gallery owner who tried to frame them pedagogically, an exigent campaign to #ShutdownLD50 registered the acute difference between pedagogy and hospitality. The liberal defence of education doesn’t cut it when fascists are on your doorstep.
But work to undo Goldsmiths institutional complicity with the Zabludowicz Art Trust by members of BDZ and students has been ongoing. Alongside a public meeting organised by BDZ in the summer of 2015, the following academic year, Goldsmiths Students’ Union passed a motion declaring official support for the Boycott Zabludowicz campaign, an extension of their official support for the BDS movement. In the first term of 2016, the first year curating course unanimously chose to not engage with the Testing Ground for Art and Collaboration. After taking their decision, the curating students drafted and sent a letter to the head of their department, stating their decision and their reasons for not taking part. They never received an acknowledgement of its receipt, let alone a response. Following this, in early 2017, members of BDZ were invited to co-present a talk and discussion, alongside those involved with the #ShutdownLD50 campaign, as the final talk of the official MFA lecture series. A statement directed to the head of the Art department and head of Curating was publicised at this talk, and signatures were collected from current students from all MFA and masters courses in the art department that were present. The statement read in part:
We call on the Head of Curating and Head of Department, with whom we believe the decision currently lies, not to enter into any partnerships, participation and collaboration with Zabludowicz collection, Zabludowicz Art Projects/Zabludowicz Art Trust/Daata Editions and that any existing partnerships are dissolved permanently.
We call for a full boycott of the Zabludowicz Collection. The department staff should no longer pass on to MFA Curating Course, BA Fine Art or MFA Fine Art students the invitation to work with the Zabludowicz Collection, nor in other ways engage with the institution, whether through support or sponsorship, as partner or collaborator.
The statement was met with the familiar H.E. idle deference that perpetuates the ongoing instrumentalisation of cultural and educational institutions to artwash a violent and brutal system of apartheid, in particular, the claim that “the Department of Art is not a political organisation”.
Yet despite the voicing of the collective demands of students and wide-ranging support disappearing into the anechoic chamber of neoliberal higher education (in H.E. no-one can hear you scream), the collective work over the years seems to have had some effect. Although the institutional relationship has not been officially severed (it is still listed on the Zabludowicz Collection’s website) representatives of the Collection have not returned in 2017 to the new year of curating students in Goldsmiths, and with almost every graduate each year deciding not to work with them, the end of the relationship is just a website update away. Yet as one institution might begin to show the encouraging signs of the results of collective efforts, the evidence of other institutions’ complicity now might come to attention again, with Chelsea and Sir John Cass College of Art and Design, alongside a few lone artists still choosing to work with the Collection. We hope that the progress at Goldsmiths can operate as a crucial and successful example that can point towards how other institutions and artists can follow in kind. Our solidarity expressed through collective refusal is our strength.
¹ Theodor Adorno and Ernst Bloch (1964) Something’s Missing in ed. Richard Noble (2009) Utopias: Documents in Contemporary Art
² We call on all cultural workers to commit in solidarity, wherever possible, to withdrawing the conceptual content of previous participation in and/or sales made to the Zabludowicz Collection.