July 25, 2024


Art Shines Through

70+ Artists Strike Finnish Museum Over Supporter’s Ties to Israeli Military

Over 70 artists and cultural workers announced today, December 1, that they are striking Finland’s Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, part of the Finnish National Gallery in Helsinki. The artists are calling for the museum to sever ties with Finnish-British businessman Poju Zabludowicz, a prominent art collector who has lent work to the museum and sits on the board of the institution’s Support Foundation. Zabludowicz’s wealth comes in part from Israeli defense contracting, and the billionaire co-founded the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM).

Finnish artists Terike Haapoja and Eero Yli-Vakkuri published an open letter on October 10. Now, with the support of 74 artists, including 2022 Venice Biennale participant Pilvi Takala, they have formally launched their initiative, “Kiasma Strike.” A short statement on the website says that its signatories expect the museum to refuse support from private parties that are involved in arms trading and manufacturing and hold financial investments in conflict zones. The statement draws particular attention to Zabludowicz, stating that the art workers refuse to “sell their labor or art” to Kiasma as long as the museum collaborates with representatives of the Zabludowicz Art Trust, which “at the moment is the case with the Kiasma Support Foundation.”

Kiasma’s Support Foundation is an 11-member group that fundraises for the museum. In addition to serving as a board member for the foundation, Zabludowicz gifted an artwork to Kiasma in 2017, and between 2008 and 2022 loaned 10 works to the museum from his Zabludowicz Collection, which has exhibition outposts in London, New York City, and Sarvisalo, Finland.

Zabludowicz’s father, Shlomo Zabludowicz, founded the Israeli defense contractor Soltam Systems, and Poju Zabludowicz serves as CEO of his investment group Tamares, which has had a stake in a company that provides aircraft services to the Israeli military. Zabludowicz founded BICOM in 2002.

As Haapoja and Yli-Vakkuri’s open letter notes, Amnesty International issued a February report describing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as an “apartheid” system. (BICOM issued a retaliatory report titled “The Apartheid Smear.”)

This is far from the first time artists and cultural workers have voiced their outcry over Zabludowicz’s involvement in the arts. In 2014, art magazine Mute called for a boycott of the Zabludowicz Trust, and the movement Boycott Divest Zabludowicz (BDZ) was launched that same year. In 2021, over 600 artists and organizations signed a BDZ open letter urging artists to de-author work acquired or exhibited by the trust. A few months later, several artists and cultural workers sent letters to the Zabludowicz Collection stating that they were “de-authoring” their work there.

In a December 1 statement, the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma said it “respects the opinion” of the artists who signed the petition and is willing to continue working with the artists after they end their strike.

The museum also stated that its Support Foundation is an “independent foundation” and a “separate actor” that “does not influence the decision-making or operations of the National Gallery or Kiasma.”

Kiasma also emphasized the museum’s position as an arm of the Finnish state, stating, “As a museum, we do not take a position on the situation in Palestine. The state of Finland has diplomatic relations with both Israel and Palestine, and the state of Finland manages it as part of its foreign policy.”

In response to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, a spokesperson sent a statement, attributed to Poju Zabludowicz, that responds directly to an article about the strike published by the Helsingin Sanomat today: “As a founding member of the Kiasma Support Foundation I believe in the importance of the museum as an independent and inclusive space. I am a proud Finnish citizen, a child of refugees from the holocaust who were given a home in a democratic Finland. This personal character attack based on negativity and misinformation attempts to call into question the ethics of the museum. I passionately support a Two-State Solution that guarantees the rights of Palestinians and Israelis to live and work side by side in peace, and I see no reason for this to be of any importance in my suitability for a place on the board of the Kiasma Support Foundation.”

But artist Tellervo Kalleinen, who has work in Kiasma’s collection, told Hyperallergic that artists, museums, and institutions “are part of the same ecosystem.”

“We cannot be indifferent to each other,” she said.

As of December 1, the list of artists who announced their decision to strike is as follows:

Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Martti Aiha, Matti Aikio, David Muoz Alcántara, Hanna Arvela, Andy Best, Yvonne Billimore, Jessie Bullivant, Otto Byström, Mika Elo, Pauliina Feodoroff, Noora Geagea, Terike Haapoja, Paavo Halonen, Riina Hannuksela, Hannaleena Hauru, Alma Heikkilä, Marja Helander, Minna Henriksson, Flis Holland, Miina Hujala, Heikki Humberg, Jenna Jauhiainen, Aino Aleksandra Johansson, Antti Jussila, Tellervo Kalleinen, Pekka Kantonen, Jaakko Karhunen, Saara-Maria Kariranta, Otto Karvonen, Petri Kaverma, Mari Keski-Korsu, Kalle Kuisma, Tuomas Laitinen, Johanna Lecklin, Viljami Lehtonen, Jani Leinonen, Pia Lindman, Suzanne Mooney, Teemu Mäki, Tero Nauha, Ahmed Al Nawas, Pekka Niskanen, Noora Nouku, Thomas Nyqvist, Paul O’Neill, Jaakko Pallasvuo, Outi Pieski, Pilvari “Nosfe” Pirtola, Anni Puolakka, Merja Puustinen, Maria Pääkkönen, Elham Rahmati, Amanda Ripatti, Nina Roos, Antti Salminen, Seppo Salminen, Sonja Salomäki, Niko Skorpio, Jenna Sutela, Nestori Syrjälä, Pilvi Takala, Henna Tanskanen, Jenni Toikka, Martta Tuomaala, Tuomo Tuovinen, Juha Valkeapää, Salla Valle, Johanna Vartola, Raita Virkkunen, Sinna Virtanen, Kari Yli-Annala, Eero Yli-Vakkuri, and Magdalena Åberg.