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German city withdraws prize from Lebanese artist over BDS support

Aachen says it is rescinding prestigious award after finding Walid Raad supports the pro-Palestinian movement
Lebanese visual artist Walid Raad (Wikipedia)

A German city has reversed its decision to hand an art prize to visual artist Walid Raad because of his endorsement of the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The US-Lebanese artist was announced as the winner for the prestigious Aachen Art Prize 2018, a €10,000 ($10,900) award scheduled to be presented in a ceremony on 13 October.

But in a statement this week, organisers said they had reversed their decision to honour Raad after receiving indications that he supports BDS.

'The designated prize winner is a supporter of the BDS movement and was involved in various activities for the cultural boycott of Israel'

- Marcel Philipp, Aachen mayor

"After appropriate research, we must assume that the designated prize winner is a supporter of the BDS movement and was involved in various activities for the cultural boycott of Israel," said Marcel Philipp, the mayor of Aachen city.

The city said it contacted Raad on 23 September to examine him over his BDS ties.

“Raad's answer is not only evasive,” Aachen’s mayor said, “but should be perceived as ‘mocking and smug’. The answer does not do justice to the seriousness of the topic.”

Aachen’s mayor added: “For us, it remains that the artist has not ceased support of the BDS movement.”

A spokesperson for Aachen city told MEE that the Aachen Art Prize involves three partners: the Association of Friends of the Ludwig Forum, Aachen city and Aachen’s business community.

MEE has contacted Raad and the Ludwig Forum for comment.

Celebrated visual artist

Raad, a celebrated visual artist, is best known for The Atlas Group, an art project that started in 1999 and continued until 2014 that produced mixed-media installations and performances inspired by Lebanon's contemporary history.

In May 2015, Raad was barred from entering the UAE over his membership of Gulf Labor, a group that involves artists trying to draw attention to the treatment of workers on the construction of the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum, which was launched in November 2017.

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In May, the German parliament passed a motion condemning the BDS movement as antisemitic. It accused BDS of utilising "patterns and methods" used by the Nazi movement during the Holocaust.

The BDS movement, which was founded in 2005 by Palestinian activists, responded by accusing Germany of "complicity in Israel's crimes of military occupation, ethnic cleansing, siege and apartheid".

Last month, the German city of Dortmund reversed its decision to hand a literary prize to British novelist Kamila Shamsie because of her support for the BDS movement. It said the 2019 award would not be handed to any author, with the next winner to be announced in 2021.

Shamsie condemned the decision and said she was saddened that the jury had bowed to pressure.

Dortmund's Nelly Sachs Prize is a biennial award given to a writer whose work celebrates "tolerance, respect and reconciliation", with winners receiving 15,000 euros ($16,500) in prize money.