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Controversy at Germany’s Documenta art festival ruins the mood

By: Phoebe Shi

Over 1,000 artists presented at the Documenta art exhibition in Kassel, Germany. People from all over the world gather together every five years to create and share with each other. From sculptures, textiles, paintings, and photography, this art festival includes a wide variety of different forms of art. It has not only individual pieces, but also large experiences and experiments.

One of these pieces, named People’s Justice, was a 60-foot banner with hundreds of figures painted on it. It was created by Taring Padi, an art collective from Indonesia. These cartoon-ish figures were painted to depict political resistance. It was two of these figures that sparked controversy.

The first was a pig-headed soldier wearing the Star of David around its neck. The second was a man with sidelocks, spiky teeth, and a hat with the SS insignia. Sidelocks are usually associated with Orthodox Jews. Both images send anti-semitic messages.

Taring Padi has since said they did not mean for the figures to be related to antisemitism. They also said it was a comment on the violence Indonesians faced during the dictatorship of Suharto.

“We apologize for the hurt caused,” Taring Padi said. “There is no record in our work that aims to portray any ethnic groups in a negative way.”

Documenta has taken down the work, but it has put a damper on the remaining days of the festival. Politicians and media have declared it a national embarrassment.

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