Culture Review: Palestinian Clown Arrested, Gambia Bans Dance During Ramadan

A selection of arts and culture news from India and around the world.

Israel extends administrative detention for circus performer

Israel has been holding a Palestinian circus performer without charge or trial since December 2015 and has decided to renew his detention for another six months.

Mohammad Abu Sakha, 23, was on his way to the Palestinian Circus School in Birzeit, where he teaches, when he was arrested. Israel’s military court claims that Abu Sakha was involved in “illegal activities” with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a political party with an armed wing that Israel has banned. Abu Sakha has spent six months behind bars without being charged.

International law permits the use of administrative detention only in exceptional, security-related cases. There are more than 600 Palestinians in Israeli prisons on administrative detention.

Gambia bans music and dance during Ramadan

Gambia’s president Yahya Jammeh has banned “all ceremonies, festivities and programmes that involve drumming, music and dance during the day or at night” during Ramadan.

Individuals who engage in these practices will “face the full force of the law”. The government has been urging ordinary Gambians to report those seen engaging in such activities to the authorities.

Gambia’s population of nearly two million is 90% Muslim, 8% Christian and the remaining 2% of indigenous beliefs. In 2015, Jammeh declared the country an Islamic state.

President of Gambia Yahya Jammeh has banned music and dance during Ramadan. Credit: Reuters

President Yahya Jammeh declared Gambia an Islamic state in 2015. Credit: Reuters

Danish national gallery removes ‘Negro’ from titles

The National Gallery of Denmark is removing terminology from titles of artworks that is dated and offensive. ‘Negro’ as well as ‘Hottentot’, the colonial Dutch term for the Khois of Africa, has been removed from the titles of 14 works on display so far.

The right-wing, anti-immigration Danish People’s Party has accused the museum of “whitewashing” Denmark’s history of colonialism and slavery, which, it says, is demonstrative of “a totalitarian mindset”. The National Gallery, however, says that it is not changing the titles that were written by artists themselves, only those given by past museum administrators. Old titles will also remain in the museum’s digital database.

In 2015, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdram removed objectionable terms from its collection, and faced similar criticism. Denmark’s National Museum will be retaining former titles, because, administrators say, these describe “an inequality between people that is part of the story”.

There has been some debate about whether using ‘African’ in place of ‘Negro’ – as the National Gallery is doing – is itself suitable.

US bill to return art to Holocaust survivors

US lawmakers are considering a bill that will ensure Holocaust victims can recover art confiscated from their families by the Nazis and their allies during World War II.

Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, a Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, said, “It is our moral duty to help those survivors and their families achieve what justice can be found.”

Actress Helen Mirren, who appeared in the 2015 film Women in Gold, about one woman’s fight to recover her family’s lost art, lent her support to the cause, because, in her words: “Art restitution is about preserving the fundamental human condition.”

In many cases, the stolen art still hangs in museums and private collections. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, also a Democrat and co-sponsor, said that museums have “indirectly aided and abetted the thuggery of the Nazis” while making “a pretense of observing the rules of morality”.

This bill has become a necessity because a 1988 treaty, the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, signed by 44 countries, has been legally ineffective in returning Nazi-confiscated artworks to their original owners.

Yale University English course “too white,” say students

Undergraduates at Yale University have anonymously petitioned that the ‘Major English Poets’ course that is a prerequisite for English majors be completely abolished. The course has been taught at the Ivy League university since 1920. Students spend two semesters reading the works of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Donne and Wordsworth, among other white, male British authors.

“The Major English Poets sequences creates a culture that is especially hostile to students of color,” the petition reads. “A year spent around a seminar table where the literary contributions of women, people of color and queer folk are absent actively harms all students, regardless of their identity.”

Assistant professor Jill Richards has outspokenly supported the petition, saying she wants to see the likes of Gertrude Stein and Derek Walcott added to the syllabus. But other professors have defended the course, saying that the instructor in question always has some choice in teaching an eighth author.