An artwork by a group of Indonesian artists that has been criticised for containing antisemitic imagery will be removed from the Documenta contemporary art exhibition in Kassel, the German city’s mayor has announced.
The artwork, a sprawling banner by the Taring Padi collective previously shown at the South Australian art festival in Adelaide last year, includes images of soldiers in riot gear with pigs’ heads, one of them labelled as a member of the Mossad, with a Star of David on his balaclava.
Behind the soldiers can be spotted what the German art magazine Monopol described as a “caricature of a Jew” with sidelocks, a cigar, vampire-like teeth and a black fedora hat carrying the insignia of the Nazi party’s paramilitary organisation, the SS.
The artwork, which was on display from Friday evening, has been criticised by the Central Council of Jews in Germany, as well as the culture ministers of the state of Hesse and the federal government, both of the Green party.
In a statement, the federal culture minister, Claudia Roth, said: “The removal of this mural, which shows clearly antisemitic pictorial elements, is overdue. The mere covering up and the statement by the Taring Padi artist collective on the matter were absolutely unacceptable.” Roth said there would be an investigation into the decisions that led to the artwork being installed in the first place.
This year’s Documenta, which takes place every five years and is holding shows in 32 venues across Kassel for 100 days, has been curated by the Indonesian artist collective Ruangrupa and focuses on art from the global south.
On Tuesday morning, organisers of the exhibition said they had covered up the banner: “Due to a depiction of a figure in the work People’s Justice (2002) by the collective Taring Padi, which triggers antisemitic readings, the collective, together with the management of Documenta and the artistic direction of Documenta 15, has decided to cover up the work in question at Friedrichsplatz and to install an explanation next to the work.”
Taring Padi, from Yogyakarta, Indonesia, said the 2002 banner was part of a campaign against the militarism and violence of the Suharto dictatorship, and military figures depicted referenced corrupt bureaucrats and violent military generals.
It said: “It is not meant to be related in any way to antisemitism. We are saddened that details in this banner are understood differently from its original purpose. We apologise for the hurt caused in this context. Therefore, with great regret, we cover up the work. This work then becomes a monument of mourning for the impossibility of dialogue at this moment.”
On Tuesday afternoon Kassel’s mayor, Christian Geselle, announced the banner would not merely be covered up but removed entirely. “We feel ashamed,” Geselle said in a press conference. “Immense damage for the city of Kassel, the state of Hesse and the Documenta has been caused. Something has happened that never should have happened.”