Organisers of the 2011 Human Rights Arts and Film Festival (HRAFF) have informed Melbourne visual artist Van Thanh Rudd that his artwork titled Pop Goes the System, which depicts global pop icon Justin Bieber supporting Palestinian human rights, will be banned from this year’s festival.
Rudd explained in a media release that his artwork shows Bieber — who recently performed in Israel — spray painting a logo of Israeli-owned chocolate company, Max Brenner, on Israel's separation wall in support of the pro-Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
Max Brenner Chocolate has been a target of the non-violent BDS campaign due to its support for the Israel Defence Force, which took part in Operation Cast Lead — Israel’s 2009 attack on Gaza that killed more than 1300 Palestinians, including 400 children.
Rudd said the HRAFF organisers opposed displaying the piece claiming it incited “racism”, “violence” and “division”, but have refused to give him an official statement explaining why the artwork was rejected.
“I wanted to imagine if Justin Bieber decided to support the BDS campaign — what impact that would have on the youth that worship him,” said Rudd.
“There is clearly no incitement of racism and violence in this artwork. It strongly opposes it. The incitement of racism and violence clearly comes from the Israeli state towards Palestinians.
“The fact that a human rights arts festival bans an artwork that contributes to a discussion on very important human struggles shows that they breach the very position they seek to uphold and are not committed to their own mission statement, which advocates encouraging debate on human rights issues and providing festival patrons with a way to take action by connecting them to human rights campaigns.
“This week also happens to be the commemoration of the Palestinian al Nakba (catastrophe) — where over 60 years ago, over 750 000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homeland by Zionist forces.
“Today Palestinians make up the largest refugee community in the world, with more than 7 million living in exile. So debate and action on the issue of human rights for Palestinians is crucial in their struggle for self-determination and human rights.”