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Sunday, April 21
The Indiana Daily Student

opinion letters

LETTER: An open letter from Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design faculty and staff

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We, the undersigned faculty and staff of the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design at Indiana University, oppose the university administration’s cancellation of the long-planned exhibition “Samia Halaby: Centers of Energy” at the Eskenazi Museum of Art. 

Undertaking the first retrospective in the U.S. of this renowned American artist of Palestinian origin — whose work belongs to such preeminent art collections as the Guggenheim Museum, the British Museum and the National Gallery of Art, and is to be included in the 2024 Venice Biennale – demonstrates the extent to which our museum and its curatorial staff are engaged in the international art world; it would have showcased IU’s relevance therein and enriched our community in turn. 

Instead, the administration’s abrupt cancellation of the exhibition compromises IU’s reputation as a haven of creative expression, academic freedom and human rights. An exhibition that could have secured the Eskenazi Museum’s identity as a leading cultural institution has, in its cancellation, generated negative publicity for IU in The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Democracy Now!, ARTNews and Artforum, and prompted condemnations by PEN America, the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art Museum Watch, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the American Association of University Professors, the Middle East Studies Association of North America, and other groups. 

At the Eskenazi School, we have already experienced collateral damage from this cancellation. Three internationally acclaimed artists — Theresa Ganz, Nina Sarnelle and Selwa Sweidan —who had committed nearly one year ago to participate in our endowed visiting artist series this spring have withdrawn.  

“To speak and share my work as a Jewish woman while a Palestinian woman is being silenced would be to give cover to those who like to imply that anything Palestinian is automatically antisemitic. This mentality is nothing less than nihilistic ethno-nationalism,” Ganz explained.  

A previous participant in the series informed us that in the wake of the cancellation, she plans never to return to IU. We can only anticipate further challenges recruiting faculty, students, and visitors disinclined to participate in an academic environment with such tight administrative control over creative activity and research.  

According to Mark Bode, a university spokesperson, the administration canceled the exhibition owing to “concerns about guaranteeing the integrity of the exhibit for its duration,” however no specific, credible threats have been publicly identified. The fact that the exhibition was comprised entirely of abstract paintings, drawings and digital artworks suggests that the source of the administration’s concerns lies not in the work itself, but in Halaby’s long, public history of activism for the Palestinian people — activism that she was already known for when the exhibition was planned. This leads us to believe that the administration’s decision was a function of current political pressures to suppress Palestinian voices. 

The university administration is entrusted with upholding and protecting the open discourse that is the foundation of IU and all credible institutions of higher learning. We believe that the administration’s cancellation of Halaby’s exhibition undermines the university’s stated mission to uphold academic freedom, to protect constitutional rights to free speech and to affirm our commitment to all members of our community. We live and work in the conviction that confronting painful histories and inconvenient truths, and expressing conflicting and sometimes unpopular opinions, is vital to a healthy and open-minded society. It must be the cornerstone of our institution. 

In the Eskenazi School, our research and creative activity speak to our faith in the artist’s responsibility to fathom the human experience, offer new perspectives, foster empathy and respect, and contribute to the greater good, refusing to sidestep challenging or controversial issues in the process. Our far-ranging work includes the creation of a memorial and refuge in Marion, Indiana, at the site of the state’s last known lynching, photographic documentation of the abandoned sites of Japanese-American internment camps, video installations honoring the stories of Ukrainian refugees in Estonia, ceramic surface decoration incorporating and interrogating racially-charged imagery, sustainable and affordable housing initiatives in towns from Indiana to Mexico, participation in global coalitions to promote ethical sourcing of materials and humane treatment of workers in the fashion and jewelry industries, and countless other critical and sometimes uncomfortable undertakings.  

As a unit whose origins date to 1895, the Eskenazi School celebrates and shares our university’s historical commitment to academic freedom, global awareness, diversity and the arts. When Samia Halaby earned her MFA in our painting department in the 1960s, it was already considered one of the nation’s leading programs. Halaby contributed to this prestige as a faculty member in the 1970s when she freely exhibited her paintings in what is now the Grunwald Gallery. Fifty-four years later, the Eskenazi School family is heartbroken that we are not able to welcome our alumna and former faculty member back home as a rightful Hoosier and to celebrate her as a world-class artist.  

We remain unconvinced of the rationale behind the show’s cancellation. If there are indeed legitimate threats, we propose that IU postpone or shorten the exhibition to ensure that adequate safety measures can be put in place. It would be reasonable to start by consulting with our Big Ten peer, Michigan State University, which has been considering the same issues and is proceeding with the exhibition of Halaby's work later this year. We would look forward to welcoming Halaby back to the community to which she already belongs as an alumna and former faculty, and in so doing, confirming that IU is a place where all forms of creative expression can thrive.  

Rowland Ricketts, area head of fibers
Heather Akou, program director of fashion design 
Sara Yourist, visiting assistant professor of architecture 
Tim Kennedy, senior lecturer of painting 
Sarah Wilkinson, graduate services coordinator 
Hassnaa Mohammed, assistant professor of interior design 
Megan Young, area head of digital art 
Ellen Campbell, graphic designer and web manager 
Ryan Farley, program coordinator for the Grunwald Gallery 
Minjeong Kim, program director of merchandising 
Angela Caldwell, visiting assistant professor of metalsmithing and jewelery design 
Justin Bailey, program director of Creative Core 
Deborah Christiansen, executive director of academics 
Osamu James Nakagawa, Ruth N. Halls distinguished professor of photography 
Malcolm Mobutu Smith, director of graduate studies in Bloomington 
Gabriel Mo, academic lab specialist 
Caleb Weintraub, area head of painting 
Torrey Gleason, visiting assistant professor of graphic design 
Linda Tien, director of the Grunwald Gallery 
Ed Bernstein, professor emeritus of art 
Ahmed Ozsever, assistant professor of Creative Core 
Hannah Osborn, administrative specialist 
Nicole Jacquard, area head of metalsmithing and jewlery design 
Betsy Stirratt, director of the Grunwald Gallery 
Bryan Orthel, program director of interior design 
Su A Chae, visiting assistant professor of painting and fashion design 
Chase Gamblin, lecturer of ceramics 
Johanna Winters, visiting assistant professor 
Tracy Templeton, area head of printmaking 
Jooyoung Shin, assistant professor of fashion design 
Karen Atkins, director of academic support services 
Tianrui Ma, director of diversity, inclusion, and access 
Grae Loveless, office coordinator 
Olivia Kalish, event services coordinator 
Elizabeth Elich, visiting assistant professor 
Tonja Torgerson, lecturer of printmaking 
Ran Huang, assistant professor of merchandising 
Kennon Smith, associate professor of interior design 
Sharron Cherry, academic advisor 
Daniel Martinez, assistant professor of architecture 
Yaël Ksander, director of communications and marketing 
Kelly Wilson, program director of architecture 
David Ondrik, area head of photography 
Teresa Larrabee, visiting assistant professor of ceramics 
Jennifer Riley, associate professor of architecture 
Lucas Brown, visiting associate professor of architecture 
Mary Embry, senior lecturer of merchandising 
Andrea Stanislav, area head of sculpture 
Martha MacLeish, program director of studio art 
Dan Woerner, adjunct faculty in sculpture 
Kelly Richardson, director and curator of the Sage Collection 
Chris Cvitkovich, visiting assistant professor of graphic design 
Ana Meza, Columbus Instructional Shops manager 
Dorian Bybee, lecturer of interior design 
Jiangmei Wu, associate professor of interior design 
Chris Reinhart, visiting professor of architecture 
Ben Pines, Master of Fine Arts alumnus 
Eve Mansdorf, associate professor of painting 
Jeff Wolin, former area head of photography 
Melanie Pennington, lecturer of sculpture 
Bonnie Sklarski, professor emerita of fine arts 
Silvia Acosta, McRobbie Bicentennial professor of modern architecture 
Elke Pessl, academic advisor 
Lulu Loquidis Martinez, co-founder of Landscape, Art, & Architecture Office 
Barry Gealt, professor emeritus of fine arts 
Kim Dutkosky, lecturer of interior design 
Jessica Quirk, visiting lecturer of fashion design 
Hiroko Hanamura, visiting assistant professor of interior design 
Atefah Farajolahzadeh, visiting assistant professor of photography 
Suzanne Halvorson, adjunct professor of fibers 
Dominick Rivers, visiting assistant professor 
Tim Mather, area head of ceramics 
Nell Weatherwax, academic advisor 
Carissa Carman, senior lecturer of fibers 
Alexander Landerman, area head of graphic design 

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