Lumiere: Festival defends Ai Weiwei installation after Israel post

A festival has defended showing work by an artist who had an exhibition "cancelled" after he posted comments referencing the Israel-Gaza conflict.

Ai Weiwei's artwork Illuminated Bottle Rack is on display at Durham Cathedral, as part of this year's Lumiere.

Festival organisers said they were "pleased" to be able to show the renowned artist's work in the city.

Ai, 65, said he found "joy" in seeing "any opportunity that upholds the expressive freedom of artists".

An exhibition of work by the Chinese artist and activist was due to open on Wednesday at the Lisson Gallery in London, but was called off after he posted comments on social media referencing the Israel-Gaza conflict.

Illuminated Bottle Rack, which comprises 61 antique chandeliers and was first created by Ai in 2018, is on display in Durham - as part of the Lumiere festival - until Sunday.

The Lumiere is a biennial event delivered by Durham County Council, with funding from Arts Council England.

Arts Council England said the details of the festival were a matter for Artichoke, the London-based company commissioned by the council to install the event

It said recipients of funding were responsible for "artistic programme decisions and day-to-day management of their activities".

A statement on behalf of Lumiere said: "We always defend the artist's right to express a view. We are pleased to be able to exhibit a work of Ai Weiwei's at Lumiere 2023."

Ai said: "I saw that Illuminated Bottle Rack was exhibited at Durham's Lumiere Festival.

"For an artist, every expression is akin to a facial expression - sometimes joyful, sometimes indignant. Ultimately, it is a form of countenance.

"Expression, in my view, mirrors what I believe reflects the health of society.

"Concurrently, I have numerous exhibitions and activities that remain unaffected.

"They adhere to the principle of providing adequate space for free speech, including room for perspectives that diverge from mainstream thoughts. This embodies a characteristic of a healthy society and civilization."

In his earlier post, which has since been deleted, Ai suggested that the "sense of guilt around the persecution of the Jewish people" had been transferred and held against the Arab world.

He also said the Jewish community had a strong influence in the media, finance and culture in the US, and that America's $3bn (£2.45bn) annual military support to Israel meant the two countries had a "shared destiny".

The contemporary artist, who has previously been openly critical of the Chinese government's stance on democracy and human rights, said he had received a notification from London's Lisson Gallery that his exhibition was "effectively cancelled due to my tweet".

The gallery said there was "no place for debate that can be characterised as anti-Semitic or Islamophobic".

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