The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, has called on a German right-wing party to withhold from using a Jean-Léon Gérôme painting from the museum’s collection in its campaign for the European elections in May.
The 1866 oil painting “Slave Market” depicts a nude fair-skinned enslaved woman being probed by Middle Eastern or North African men. One of the men, dressed in an Abaya (traditional cloak), is seen inspecting her teeth. The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party proliferated posters of the painting across the German capital with the slogan: “So that Europe won’t become Eurabia.”
“We strongly condemn the use of the painting to advance AfD’s political stance and have written to them insisting that they cease and desist,” said Olivier Meslay, the director of the Clark Art Institute, in a statement. “We are strongly opposed to the use of this work to advance any political agenda.”
However, Meslay acknowledged that there’s little the museum can do since the painting is in the public domain. “There are no copyrights or permissions that allow us to exert control over how it is used other than to appeal to civility on the part of the AfD Berlin,” he said.
Ronald Glaeser, a spokesman for the Berlin branch of the AfD rejected the the museum’s request and described it as “a futile attempt to gag the AfD.”
“The German public has the right to find out about the truth about the possible consequences of illegal mass immigration,” said Glaeser.
AfD is Germany’s largest opposition party. It became the parliment’s third largest party after the 2017 election in the country. Known for its anti-immigrant stances, the party cites Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to welcome large numbers of Syrian refugees as the source of Germany’s current social problems. In November last year, the party proposed to repatriate half a million Syrian refugees back to their country, saying the war was “nearly over.”