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28th February 2022

Whitworth gallery director removed from post over controversial Palestine statement

Allistair Hudson’s removal has caused backlash from UoM students over concerns of university interference in artistic and political debate
Whitworth gallery director removed from post over controversial Palestine statement
The entrance to Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester

The director of the Whitworth Gallery, Alistair Hudson, has been removed from his post by the University of Manchester over showing an exhibition that involved a statement defending Palestine. Hudson received numerous complaints from UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) over an exhibition by Forensic Architecture, a well-respected investigative agency, that labelled Israeli interventions in Palestine as ‘ethnic cleansing’.

The exhibition was first held last August and since then there has been much debate among artists, students and in particular, the UKLFI put pressure on the university, asking them to take action and interfere. They felt the university had breached its public sector equality duties by allowing representations to be shown that were inflammatory, triggering and inaccurate.

The agency argued against these claims of inaccuracy, presenting evidence in international and national courts as well as truth commissions. Initially, the University responded by briefly removing the statement from the exhibition. But it was restored last August, following backlash from student protestors that argued the university was silencing the Palestinian side of the debate and taming art.

Therefore, this recent decision to remove the director of the art gallery has sparked debate amongst students over the role of the university in interfering with artwork and political debates, since it is supposed to be an unbiased institution. This has led many students to side with the artist.

A Social Sciences student told The Mancunion that, “the university should not remove statements that they feel are biased because that’s how we speak up on justice, encourage debate and spread awareness, although they have the right to consider how these statements are presented.”

Another student, who studies Politics and International Relations, argued that “artwork is a form of freedom of expression, therefore, unless the statement has been proven to be inaccurate or triggering, the university should not suppress people’s opinions or interpretations of events.”

When speaking to The Guardian, a University of Manchester spokesperson said: “We absolutely uphold academic freedom. Staffing matters are strictly internal to the university and we never comment on questions of this nature.”

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