Tag Archives: Reena Katz

Toronto gallery that severed ties with Palestinian rights activist found in violation of city’s non-discrimination code

We wrote back in May about artist Reena Katz’s multi-layered exhibition about Toronto’s historic Kensington Market area. The project, Katz stated, was intended to “animat[e] a dialogue between aspects of Toronto’s diverse Jewish/Yiddish history and its fascinating contact with other cultures.” Sponsors of the project, the Koffler Centre of the Arts, a specifically Jewish art space, abruptly severed ties with Katz after they discovered an endorsement of Israel Apartheid Week on her Facebook page. No one ever suggested the decision was in any way related to the content of the piece or their satisfaction with her work. Here is today’s update from Katz and curator Kim Simon:

August 5, 2009

Dear friends and colleagues;

We are pleased to update you regarding the status of Katz’s performative project in Kensington
Market, each hand as they are called:

As many of you know, The Koffler Centre for the Arts dissociated from Katz and the commissioned project in early May, 2009 because of her political work for Palestinian human rights, and subsequently sent a defamatory press release across the country, falsely claiming that Katz supports the extinction of the State of Israel. Since late May, we have been in legal negotiations with the Koffler about moving forward with the project and we have now reached an agreement. While the specific terms of this agreement are confidential, we are happy to continue discussions about our experience and understanding of the Koffler “dissociation” as well as the project itself.

Simultaneously but independent of our legal negotiations, the Toronto Arts Council (TAC) Board of Directors has been involved in internal discussion, as well as in consultation with the Koffler about their decision to dissociate as well as their professional and ethical conduct. The TAC has determined that the Koffler was in violation of the City of Toronto’s non-discrimination policy regarding an individual’s right to freedom of political association. As it is not TAC general policy to release public statements regarding such matters, for a more detailed statement regarding the decision, the TAC invites you to contact Executive Director Claire Hopkinson directly at Claire@torontoartscouncil.org.

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More McCarthyism in Toronto: Jewish institutions distance selves from artist because of her views, not her work.

Why is artist/Yiddishist/Klezmer performer Reena Katz losing sponsorship of her community-based art installation? Reena’s big problem is that she’s smarter, more depthful, more nuanced and more devoted to bringing back the richness of nearly extinct Jewish culture, than the small-minded groups that are funding her project.

Theirs is a simplistic, narrow and ultimately pathetic form of Jewishness which primarily worships Jewish nationalism -a form of idolatry- and tries to impose a mythical monoculture on a rich, varied and argumentative tradition- which has a history of including political Zionists and non or anti-Zionists. Today, non Zionists can do no art there, regardless of the content. Tomorrow, I suppose, they won’t be allowed in the door as visitors. When will staff have to pass a loyalty test? Why are they so insecure that they can’t allow everyone, Zionists and anti-Zionists, to be part of the same Jewish community? (The same can be said of those on the left who would like to ban anyone who identifies as Zionist from their midst.)

Taking what happened at Chicago’s Spertus Museum as an example, it’s likely the Koffler curator was supportive of the project and Reena too. It’s the people with the purse strings at the Canadian United Jewish Appeal who threw a fit, and if you want to keep your job… The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports:

A leading Toronto Jewish community-funded art gallery severed its ties to an exhibit over the artist’s political associations concerning Israel.

The Koffler Centre of the Arts announced Friday that it was disassociating itself from an art installation titled “Each hand as they are called,” about life in the one-time Toronto Jewish neighborhood of Kensington Market, because of artist Reena Katz’s politics.

That’s right. Not the art project itself, which sounds extraordinary, complex, layered and beautiful. No, simply because they decided on Friday to take a peek at her public Facebook page and saw that she endorsed Israel Apartheid Week, something she had never made a secret. Of course knowing that pulling $20,000 from the project a year after it started might not look so great, they offered to let her keep the money, while pulling their name off of everything. JVoices has Reena’s entire statement, as well as the statement of project curator Kim Simon, also Jewish, also pissed off:

It is with absolute outrage and a deep sadness that we write this statement regarding our experience working with the Koffler Centre of the Arts. As a Jewish curator and Jewish artist, we were invited by the Koffler to develop a project in early 2008. Since April of last year we have been working closely on an off-site exhibition wholeheartedly approved by Koffler curator Mona Filip, Koffler Executive Director Lori Starr and the Koffler Arts Advisory Committee.

Slated to open on May 20th 2009, the project, entitled each hand as they are called, is an ambitious and considered series of ephemeral gestures reflective of life in Toronto’s historic Kensington Market. The project consists of sonic and visual performances, brings elders from Toronto’s Jewish community into conversation and play with students from Ryerson Public School, and involves a series of vivid posters designed by Cecilica Berkovic sited throughout the Kensington neighborhood. This beautiful, smart and tender project reflects a deep commitment to animating a dialogue between aspects of Toronto’s diverse Jewish/Yiddish history and its fascinating contact with other cultures. Through a queer framing of social history, this dialogue draws on the current social and economic space of Kensington Market, the trans-cultural game of Mah-Jongg, and the fusion music of the North American Yiddish song.

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