On the morning of Saturday, May 28, vandalism was discovered in the exhibition space of Documenta 15, the quinquennial contemporary art show based in Kassel, Germany, that officially opens mid-June. Graffitied on walls and and doors were several instances of the word “Peralta” and the number “187.” An anonymous statement that first appeared on Facebook suggests that the graffiti vandalism was an attack on Palestinian artists and members of the art collective The Question of Funding, who have been targets of baseless accusations of antisemitism that have circulated in the German media since January.
“Peralta” is a possible reference to Isabel Peralta, a Spanish far-right and neo-Nazi youth leader. The number “187” is a popular graffiti symbol that sometimes carries the connotation of a death threat, referring to the section of California’s penal code that defines murder.
In a press release shared with Hyperallergic, Documenta’s organizers said they would be taking the vandalism “very seriously” and raised the possibility that it was linked to Islamophobic stickers that had been pasted on the curating group ruangrupa’s headquarters in Kassel earlier this year, which featured messages such as “Freedom not Islam!” and “Solidarity with Israel.” Documenta has filed a criminal complaint and local police are now investigating the incident. The organizers’ statement also indicated that the festival would be heightening security presence at its multiple exhibition locations.
“At this point in time, it cannot be ruled out that these are politically motivated offenses,” said Documenta’s press release.
Ruangrupa and the artistic team of Documenta 15 were more categorical in their condemnation of the vandalism, stating in no uncertain terms that the defacement was directed at its own workspace and exhibition venues associated with The Question of Funding.
“We are wishing for a working atmosphere where acts of violence towards the artists’ persons, venues, and artworks cannot be tolerated,” they said, quoted in Documenta’s press release.
Kassel Mayor Christian Geselle also condemned the attack. “Having discussions about documenta fifteen is one thing, but intimidating artists by committing crimes goes far beyond the pale and damages the image of the city of Kassel as a place of artistic freedom and host to artists from all over the world,” he said. “Together with documenta and the local authorities, we will do everything necessary to ensure the safety of the participants and guests.”
The vandalism follows a protracted, months-long smear campaign spearheaded by a one-man operation deceptively named the Kassel Alliance Against Anti-Semitism charging The Question of Funding and ruangrupa with antisemitism. The accusations rest entirely on instances of their members’ political activism in the past, which include criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinian people.
A member of The Question of Funding who asked to remain anonymous criticized the German media for what he described as an inevitable outcome of careless reporting sourced entirely from one malicious blog post. “This was a result of the media hostility, and the violence that has been incited by the media, against The Question of Funding and Palestinian artists — and even non-Palestinian artists who show support to Palestine,” the member told Hyperallergic.
“It’s the responsibility of the hosts — the city of Kassel and documenta — to ensure safety for everyone, not only by increasing security, but providing safety in its political sense,” they added. “We should be safe mentally and psychologically to practice and show our artistic and intellectual work without being afraid of being subjected to smear campaigns.”