Since 2010 there has taken place a lightning-fast erosion of public sector funding for the arts and humanities. As the Arts Council and the Universities have seen their sources of state support disintegrate, corporate capital has stepped in to fill the gap, expanding its presence and its sphere of influence through the direct funding of almost every public arts institution, exhibition, symposium, art school and University department.
1. Critical business cards.
Through this tendency, ‘art’ becomes one more administrative instrument of bourgeois asset holders, a strategic tool fundamentally akin to their advertising and human resources departments.
The London-based Zabludowicz Collection, notorious for its complicity in Israeli militarism, stands in relation to this new tendency as its bona fide avant-garde, a pathbreaker for the new brand of post-2010, post-austerity artistic conformism. Each of its shows is a further example of the extent to which ‘critical’ and ‘progressive’ cultural work can be painlessly converted into just so many business cards for brutal and exploitative entrepreneurs.
2. Precarity conformism vs. collective resistance.
Against this background, in which the recognition of increasing precariousness is too often corrupted into the self-serving, first-worldist, and historically unreal claim that principled political action is simply unaffordable, the Zabludowicz boycott agitates for a more practical set of commitments.
First, the campaign is a practical commitment to the idea that at moments of state repression, collective action is the only way in which cultural workers can hope to improve the conditions in which they work. Second, it is a practical commitment to the cause of the Palestinians now struggling against the oppression and brutality of the Israeli state. Third, it is a practical commitment to broadening the recognition that no progressive art could ever be made that accepts apartheid and state racism as its condition of possibility. In all of these respects the campaign is a refutation of the assumption that collective resistance is misplaced, ineffective or impossible due to the working conditions of artists. This view is nothing but precarity conformism, the new dominant ideology of contemporary cultural politics.
3. Boycott Zabludowicz, arts strike now!
The increasing prominence of the Zabludowicz Art Trust is symptomatic of the current tendency in arts funding precisely because its connection to state oppression, militarism and apartheid is so blatant. The Art Trust is funded by the Zabludowicz Trust and its corporate arm, the Tamares Group, which in the past has been an investor in property built on illegal settlements. Meanwhile it currently invests in the holding company Knafaim, which is economically linked to the Israeli Air Force via various maintenance contracts. Additionally, Poju Zabludowicz, one of the Collection’s founders, is the chief funder of the UK’s largest Israel lobby group BICOM, and donates significant sums of money to the British Conservative party. The art that is exhibited in the Zabludowicz Collection provides an aesthetic gloss to institutions whose profits and end-goals are derived from ongoing militarist oppression and racialised dispossession.
In solidarity with callouts circulated during Operation Protective Edge by Palestinian arts organisations, and in response to on-going campaigns by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), the Boycott Zabludowicz campaign calls for a public and collective refusal of collaboration on the part of cultural workers. The campaign is public because it recognises that the best way to overcome isolation is to break the polite taboo around political disagreement. It is collective, because it recognises that a desirable transformation in political conditions will not begin as a result of private acts of consumer choice but through shared collective action and unabashed solidarity.
4. Whose boycott?
The callout recognises every gesture of solidarity as being of worth and as effective. Whatever their employment status or institutional affiliation, all cultural workers share in common the obligation to sell their labour power. This is an inescapable fact in a world where culture is administered by an owner-class along with its buyers and representatives – but it is also a basis for solid collective action. Artists can withdraw their labour capacity by refusing to provide it in the future, academics can struggle through their trade unions in favour of disaffiliation motions, administrators can sabotage their worksites.
Unlike strikes that depend on an affirmation of work in order to withdraw labour, the Boycott Zabludowicz campaign calls for an art strike predicated on a collective commitment to refuse current and future work. It also encourages artists to sabotage past labour, or, in other words, to devalue the current contents of the collection by de-authorising any artworks or cultural products that the collection may have acquired. Retrospective refusal of this kind is an effective move: it works against artworks being repurposed as propaganda, and it cuts off the supply of artworks and labour that the collection needs in order to continue its operations.
Workers outside of the cultural sphere can join the struggle too. Picket lines outside of shops and universities teach the same lesson. In an economy based mainly on services, where sites of production and consumption tend to converge, workers’ struggles are stronger where people refuse their identity as consumers and repudiate the idea that their political interests are best served by an assertion of their consumer ‘rights’. The campaign calls on those outside the cultural sphere to refuse to visit the Zabludowicz Collection and to look in their own workplaces and communities for ways to link up with Palestinian solidarity struggles.
Just as the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement fights against a state logic that deems some lives to be worthless, the Boycott Zabludowicz campaign operates against a general economic logic that privileges some proletarians over others and which damagingly assumes that some refusals are redundant by nature.
5. Boycot Zabludowicz is the beginning.
The public pledge text is available at the BDZ website, along with details on how to sign. While the pledge sets out some general conditions for a boycott, it is more effective if signatories think independently and critically about how to fulfil its terms. As PACBI write in their guidelines, the boycott of Israeli institutions is not about gestures of symbolic support but about consistently and materially pressing back against brutal state oppression. Solidarity with Palestinians who pursue this struggle on the ground demands this of us. Boycott Zabludowicz is just the start.
Photo: BDZ Group
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