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Syrian Film Collective Withdraws from Venice Biennale, Claims Censorship [UPDATED]

A graphic created by Abounaddara for their withdrawal announcement today. (image courtesy Abounaddara)
A graphic created by Abounaddara for their withdrawal announcement today. (image courtesy Abounaddara)

VENICE — The Abounaddara collective has withdrawn from All the World’s Futures, the 2015 Venice Biennale’s central exhibition curated by Okwui Enwezor, claiming that their opening short film, “All the Syria’s Futures,” was “censored” by not being screened on May 5. In a letter to the Biennale’s organizers members of the collective expressed concern that their films will be “screened to the public in 30 minutes blocs [sic], scheduled between readings from Marx’s [Das] Capital [sic] and various musical interludes.” The group is also concerned that they were awarded a “special mention” without their first film being screened.

The central theater area that is being programmed for All the World's Futures, including the work of Abounaddara (image by the author for Hyperallergic)
The central theater area that is being programmed for All the World’s Futures during a performance of “Gay Guerrilla” last Saturday. This is where the work of Abounaddara was reputedly scheduled to be shown. (image by the author for Hyperallergic)

Founded in 2010, Abounaddara is a collective of anonymous filmmakers working to provide an alternative image of Syrian society that blurs religious, cultural, and other affiliations and goes beyond the global stereotypes about Syria. The group was awarded the New School’s 2014 Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics. Since their founding, Abounaddara has released a short video every week on Vimeo about individual Syrians on all sides of the conflict. “All the Syria’s Futures” (2015), which was published on Vimeo five days ago, features an interrupted television transmission of Syria’s autocratic leader Bashar al-Assad during an official broadcast that appears to show him walking past Syrian troupes and entering the Presidential Palace.

The group told Hyperallergic that the Bienniale has:

… denied all : the censorship and the rest. We sent them our short one time, they didn’t scheduled it and not mentioned it anywhere, they didn’t answer any of our questions about it disappareance of [sic] the program. And the denied any censorship or contempt.

Below is Abounaddara’s letter to the Venice Biennale in full:

Dear Venice Biennale,

We would like to thank you for awarding our films a Special Mention. However, we do not understand how this award could have been granted when our opening short, All the Syria’s Futures, is still not scheduled to appear in the Arena – this despite the fact that it was supposed to be screened beginning on May 5th.

Furthermore, we have just been informed that our other short films will be screened to the public in 30 minutes blocs, scheduled between readings from Marx’s Capital and various musical interludes.

This does not conform to our initial agreement, which stipulated that each of our films would be shown on a dedicated screen for one week.

It is true that you subsequently spoke of screening our films at specific times, due to what were described as technical constraints. However, we were confident that whatever the circumstances, the Arena would be an appropriate space to launch our films, cinematic Molotov cocktails that we have thrown in the face of the world since the beginning of the Syrian revolution.

We were evidently mistaken. Our first film was censored, and our remaining films risk becoming nothing more than entertaining distractions from the main Spectacle.

For these reasons, we have no choice but to withdraw our work from the Arena. We invite the public to follow our films online, where they will continue to be released every Friday.

Abounaddara

Update, 11:55am: A spokesperson for Enwezor responded to our request for a comment on the situation with the following message:

as neither the Venice Biennale nor any of its representatives nor Okwui Enwezor have been contacted directly about this we do not want to comment but can only say that we are rather surprised and have to insist that there was of course no censorship whatsoever but on the contrary the films were shown exactly as agreed upon by Abounaddara and they obviously were also seen, if I may add, among others by the International Jury of the 56, International Art Exhibition, who honored Abounaddara’s contribution by giving them a special mention, the second highest honor possible.

Watch Abounaddara’s short film “All the Syria’s Futures”:

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