AN artistic display in a gallery connected to the RMIT University campus in Carlton which included designs almost identical to Nazi swastikas has been concealed by management after a Jewish passer-by was distressed at sighting it.
The artwork, by Melbourne textile artist Paul Yore, displayed as part of an exhibition of his works at Project Space, a gallery linked to RMIT School of Art, features an ornamental dress, with an embroidered band on its hem that includes a series of swastikas. The display has been strongly criticised by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ).
The swastikas are coloured black within a white circle on a red band, like the Nazi swastika flag, but speckled with diamantes.
Contacted by The AJN, an RMIT spokesperson stated, “While all attendees are informed about sensitive exhibition content before entering the gallery, RMIT is aware that during the installation of the current exhibition, sensitive imagery was not concealed from public view.
“Through active consultation with RMIT’s Jewish Student Society and the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, the gallery has now put measures in place to ensure this work is more appropriately screened from public view.”
Yore stated, “I use the swastika symbol in my work to critique the intersection of authoritarianism, fascism and nationalism. The decision to conceal the exhibition from the street was made as a gesture of solidarity with members of the local Jewish community.
“I completely understand how sections of the work containing the swastika symbol, if viewed outside the broader context of the exhibition, could be misread or be seen as offensive,” he said.
However, ECAJ research director on antisemitism Julie Nathan said, “Whatever the artist’s intentions might have been, it is far from obvious that his use of the swastika was to critique any of the things it stands for.
“The displayed swastikas were in full Nazi style – tilted, black, inside a white circle, and on a red background – and were featured on the hem of a pastel coloured dress. This kind of usage could readily be interpreted as an attempt to glamourise Nazism rather than a condemnation of its racist and genocidal ideology and practices.
“In any event, the distress it would cause to the Jewish community and to others who suffered under the Nazi regime should have rung alarm bells for the RMIT art gallery from the outset. I welcome the fact that RMIT covered up the swastikas after complaints from the local Jewish community. However, the sensitivity should have been there without being prompted by complaints.”