Sighting: Piet Zwart Institute (PZI), Rotterdam
Note: Banner made by students of the MFA program at Piet Zwart Institute among them Christian Ovesen, Diana Al Halabi and Emma Astner Jansson
The group set about creating a banner that read: “Stop ethnic cleansing, Free Palestine, Save Sheikh Jarrah” which they hung from their schools’ building, beginning on May 12, in the middle of the Gaza onslaught.
That evening they were told by PZI’s Dean, Jeroen Chabot, that the banner must be removed because “the building of the academy needs to signal to anyone that this is a safe pluriform educational space for everyone to learn in. That is why the building cannot be used for political, religious or commercial statements.”
After the banner was removed, a group of students spent an hour on Zoom with the dean and he said that the use of the term “ethnic cleansing” was a form of violence that made some feel unsafe, says Al-Halabi. The students responded that actual ethnic cleansing was a very violent action, and the term aptly describes the forced removal of one racial group in favour of another, in a colonial context. Rather amusingly, decoloniality features in PZI’s curricula, but as the Netherlands based British artist Hamja Ahsan points out, decoloniality is in fact a “trendy buzzword in the contemporary art world but you find that a lot of its infrastructure is complicit with actual coloniality.” Theory ought to engage with praxis.
The dean proceeded to further contradict the schools’ prior actions: “Also, we believe in true dialogue, rather than exchanging statements and Instagram posts.” Crucially, Chabot failed to comment when asked directly, on whether Muslim safety and opinion was explored through the ‘dialogue’ sacrosanct to his defence.
In the days that followed, students attempted to rehang the banner, post statements and attach flags to their studio windows, all of which were thwarted by on-campus security. The institution upped their policing “by multiplying the number of guards sent to our school on an hourly basis”, claiming that this was done in the interest of their safety, says Al-Halabi. Chabot reiterated the schools’ “neutrality” based on a ‘safety for everybody’ rhetoric, later saying that Israeli students may also feel unsafe. Diana Al-Halabi’s reassurance was satirically literal: “We harbour no weapons here nor are we against Israeli students. We are just demanding a stop to this colonial brutality.”