There’s been a bit of row at City Hall, recently, as a somewhat controversial artist has a display at the city’s Karsh-Masson Gallery:
The “Invisible” exhibit has been at the Karsh-Masson Gallery on City Hall’s ground floor since May 9, when Toronto-based artist Rehab Nazzal was on hand for the opening. “She collects and compiles traces of Palestine, her homeland, and its military occupation by Israel,” says the exhibit brochure.
The [Ottawa Jewish Federation], however, says it has been disturbed by a display it says “glorifies Palestinian terrorists.”
Responding to one specific criticism, Nazzal says the inclusion of Dalal Mughrabi — a Palestinian behind an attack that killed more than 30 Israelis, according to reports — is because she is part of the collective memory of the Palestinian people.
The federation is encouraged the city is reviewing the gallery’s art selection, president and CEO Andrea Freedman said in a statement, which added changes should “ensure that such outrageous messages advanced under the guise of art are not allowed.”
The mayor, in a moment of municipal diplomacy, met with the Israeli ambassador and had “a good dialogue”. Regardless of whatever was said, the display is not coming down. As deputy city manager Steve Kanellakos says:
Who gives me the right, or anybody the right, to pull an artist’s work if it’s not breaching some law of the land?
Art, by its nature, is going to be controversial, depending on your point of view.
What a wonderful sentiment expressed by a government administrator. It is wonderful that the city has an art gallery available to all City Hall visitors, and though there must be a level of discernment when choosing exhibits, the city should be careful to avoid censoring controversial viewpoints.
The city should never seek to offend, but nor should it eschew all controversy. Sometimes, great art offends. Sometimes, being offended will stir an important lesson for each of us.