Parisian gallery The Palais de Tokyo has faced a backlash from LGBTQ+ artists and activists after it revealed this week that it would host an exhibition organised by the Arab Museum of Modern (Mathaf) in Qatar. Homosexuality is still illegal in the Gulf country, carrying a sentence of up to seven years in prison, and activists have criticised the decision to collaborate with a museum run by the Qatari state. The exhibition is part of a wider programme for the Qatar-France 2020 Year of Culture.
The guest show, called Notre Mode Brûle (Our world is Burning), has been curated by the Mathaf’s director Abdellah Karoum and is described as a survey of the “numerous societal transformations in the Middle East in the context of the global crisis of political debate and environmental fragility.” The show, which is made up of work from Mathaf’s collection, features numerous artists who have been outspoken on political or social issues, including John Akomfrah, Yto Barrada, Otobong Nkanga, Michael Rakowitz and Danh Vo.
Critics of the decision have included Azerbaijani artist and Paris-based LGBTQ+ activist Babi Badalov and philosopher Yves Michaud, who was previously the director of the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Speaking to the Art Newspaper, Michaud said: “This is part of the Qatari government’s shameless and long-term strategy to bribe French society and soften its stance on human rights issues in the Persian Gulf region.”
Since the story broke, The Palais de Tokyo released a statement clarifying its position. “We want to emphasise that we do not partner with a state but with a museum,” it reads. “This is a collaboration with Abdellah Karroum, the director of Mathaf, an internationally acclaimed curator who has always fought against sexual discrimination. The Palais de Tokyo trusts the power of engaged and progressive institutions such as Mathaf to play a part in shaping society.”
Artist Babi Badalov told the Art Newspaper, “The gay community shall fight for the cancellation of the exhibition.” Protests are expected for the exhibition’s opening, which is scheduled for 21 February.