Enabling Apartheid through Cultural Curation

naji-al-ali-2FULL ARTICLE: Permission for Violence: Enabling Apartheid through Cultural Curation

While in development, Marathon accepted funding by the Israeli Ministry of Culture, as well as by Acco Theatre, and by the Israeli Embassy here in Ottawa for travel. Given the relatively small community of independent theatre that Ottawa offers, the inclusion of such works, which speak on Israeli identity and originate from within the state, must be seen with urgency. My initial intent was to write a review on the performance of Marathon, however the director’s and performers’ decisions to directly accept funding from state institutions placed it in violation of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) principles outlined in the Ottawa Cultural Boycott of Israel. The purpose of this article then, is to discuss the implications of the curatorial decision to amplify the representation of an apartheid state and to show that acceptance of such unilateral representation, though intended to be neutral, is still an act of political violence.

That Palestinian performers were not cast in a work that uses an autobiographical approach to explore Israeli identity, though perhaps inadvertently on the part of any performers, perpetuates the erasure of a demographic that makes upwards of 20% of the Israeli population. To even consider the medium of physical theatre as a mode of exploring this identity, it is the presence of the body, its immediate and visceral presence, that defines this expression. Yet, if  the Palestinian voice is absent this implies a brutal silence, where neither the living body of Palestine nor the urgent voice of its persistence, of its struggle, are made present to this artistic form and narrative. In the depiction of Israeli identity, and the dialogue around its effects, the isolation of this representation from the demographic that the state is actively colonizing is an act of political violence.


The inclusion of Marathon, on tour through four Canadian cities, in the undercurrents program was described by festival curator Patrick Gauthier as based on an intended neutrality. In Gauthier’s words, the performance was intriguing for its aesthetic rather than its content. This deliberate ignorance, however, raises concerns about the role of curatorial responsibility given the broad reach of its cultural dialogue. Can we so easily forget the dangers of assuming an objectivity that pardons the unilateral voice of an apartheid state? Can we so easily neglect how such objectivity continues to be used as a method of permitting the real effects of political violence? It is unsurprising then, that choreographer Omar Barghoutti draws a parallel between the cultural complicity with Israeli apartheid, and that of South Africa and Fascist Germany, as stated by director of the United Nations Centre Against Apartheid, Enuga S. Reddy.