Forensic Architecture has announced its decision to withdraw from the 2019 Whitney Biennial. The London-based research group has also requested to replace its 10-minute video about the global spread of tear gas and bullets produced by companies linked to Whitney Museum vice chairman Warren Kanders, with new evidence they’ve found that directly links the weapons manufacturer to violence on the Israeli-Palestinian border in Gaza.
The organization has previously claimed a connection between the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and Sierra Bullets — a weapons manufacturer partially owned by Kanders — through contracts with the army’s preferred supplier of ammunition, the Israeli Military Industry.
Now, one of Forensic Architecture’s researchers in Gaza believes they may have found direct evidence linking the museum board member to border violence that the United Nations classified in a recent report as a potential war crime. After a weekly Friday protest in mid-July, the researcher says that she found an unexploded open-tip bullet in the sand surrounding the Al-Bureji protest camp near the border. The bullet was intact and largely matches the open-source analysis that Forensic Architecture has already conducted on the types of ammunitions Sierra Bullets manufactures.
“What we’ve seen in Palestine is an escalation in acceptable violence,” the researcher told Hyperallergic during a joint interview with Forensic Architecture’s director, Eyal Weizman. “This escalation has resulted in over 90 amputations — the vast majority of which have been to lower limbs.”
A lawyer by trade and professor of political science, the Forensic Architecture researcher has worked in the Occupied Palestinian Territories for 15 years. More recently, she has been tasked with collecting evidence in Gaza — both in the form of ammunition rounds and eyewitness testimony. These two components were key for building the group’s biennial submission, “Triple-Chaser” (2019), a collaboration with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras and Praxis Films. Because the researcher investigates sensitive topics like the Israeli military’s weapons suppliers and its use of force on the Palestinian border, she has requested that her identity remain anonymous.
The Jerusalem Post estimates that over 60 Palestinians were injured during demonstrations on May 16, 2019. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) said around 10,000 Palestinians in several locations along the fence burned tires and threw stones and explosive devices toward troops. Palestinian media has reported that the IDF fired live bullets, tear gas, and skunk spray at protesters trying to damage the border fence. (The UN report estimates that in 2018, Israeli forced killed 189 Palestinians and injured another 6,106 during that year’s protests.)
Weizman says that until yesterday, his organization was planning to release the new research alongside an ultimatum for the removal of Kanders from the Whitney’s board of trustees. Recent news of other artists withdrawing from the show — one of the world’s most prestigious exhibitions of contemporary art — convinced the group to expedite its plans. Forensic Architecture says they have informed curators Rujeko Hockley and Jane Panetta of their decision.
“We believe there’s a problem in how everybody is focusing on the tear gas,” Weizman told Hyperallergic.
“After this discovery, what may have started as the Tear Gas Biennial is now the Sierra Bullet Biennial,” added the researcher. “For context, human rights groups have been looking for an identifiable specimen. It’s something the art world may appreciate less, but these groups have been trying to get these bullets outside of Gaza for some time. We believe that we have something that is going to make a difference.”
Forensic Architecture is the eighth exhibitor to withdraw from biennial.
The Whitney has responded to artist requests for withdrawal with the following statement from the museum’s director, Adam Weinberg: “The Whitney respects the opinions of all the artists it exhibits and stands by their right to express themselves freely. While the Whitney is saddened by this decision, we will of course comply with the artists’ request.”
Hyperallergic has reached out to a Kanders spokesperson for comment but did not receive an immediate response.
07/20/19, 5:56pm correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Forensic Architecture made their decision to withdraw in consultation with Decolonize This Place. This error was made due to a miscommunication between the two organizations; the decision was made solely by Forensic Architecture. We have removed the error from this article.