Anti-Semitic Artwork Raises Eyebrows, but Not Hard Questions, in Germany

July 1, 2022 | Jurek Molnar
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In May, one of Germany’s most prestigious art shows featured a giant mural created by an Indonesian artistic collective called Taring Padi. According to Taring Padi, “figures depicted in the banner reference commonly-known symbols within the Indonesian political context, for example corrupt bureaucracy, military generals [sic] and their soldiers, which are symbolized by pigs, dogs, and rats to criticize an exploitative capitalist system and military violence.” Jurek Molnar explains the ensuing controversy, which led to parts of the mural being covered up, before it was removed completely:

What is not mentioned [in the official description] is that some of the soldiers are depicted as pigs and one of them has a line on his helmet that reads “Mossad.” He is also wearing a Star of David on a scarf. Another figure is a somehow-identifiable Jewish man with vampire teeth and an “SS” logo on his bowler hat. The banner itself was made twenty years ago and shown around the world at several festivals of the same kind and nobody ever seemed to have taken offence. At least that’s the perspective of Taring Padi. They were never challenged at all, because “anti-Zionism” is a standard idea among progressives all around the world and outside Europe they never triggered any sensitivities.

Their perspective is what most progressives think about the issue. Anti-imperialism and anti-militarism come by default with a Palestinian flag. And nobody ever questioned that Taring Padi’s noble activism against Suharto’s dictatorship and its critique of militarism naturally has to involve Jews painted as pigs and vampires. If these are really “commonly-known symbols within the Indonesian political context,” then these must be quite regular images in [the artists’] work and of course in their own bubble of global political leftwing milieux.

The condemnations in the German press were shared by all mainstream media organizations; even demands for banning Taring Padi from the festival were widespread. That’s not nothing. But . . . Taring Padi’s excuse that the banner only reflects local political issues was accepted without further questions and they will continue to propagate their noble cause against imperialism and militarism. . . . . Nobody, it seems, wasted any thought how anti-Semitism and Jews with SS signs on their hats do play into the political protests in Indonesia.

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