Manchester university under fire after forcing out museum director who hosted pro-Palestinian exhibition

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LONDON: The UK’s largest university has drawn criticism for forcing the resignation of a senior museum official who found himself in the firing line of a pro-Israel legal lobbying group for an exhibition he chose to run.

The University of Manchester asked for Alistair Hudson, the director of the Whitworth art gallery, to quit his job after he was criticized by UK Lawyers for Israel.

Whitworth’s removal has been slammed by key figures and institutions from the art and museum worlds.

UKLFI publicly denounced Hudson after his gallery hosted an exhibition by Forensic Architecture, a London-based collective that has repeatedly challenged the Israeli state over extrajudicial killings and the issue of land rights.

Forensic Architecture, which has been shortlisted for the UK’s prestigious Turner Prize for art, use their expertise as architects, artists, lawyers, scientists and journalists to examine state violence worldwide, including by the Israeli military.

A statement by Forensic Architecture at the Whitworth gallery, which is run by the University of Manchester, stated that the collective “stands with Palestine” and highlighted eyewitness accounts of military attacks in Gaza that had created environmental disasters, underground explosions and “massive air quakes with clouds of toxic fumes.”

UKLFI wrote to the University of Manchester — which has the largest student population of any UK school — and said the exhibition’s language seemed “designed to provoke racial discord.”

The gallery then removed the written statement but later reinstated it after protests by Forensic Architecture.

Hudson wrote in August last year, after reinstating the words, that he recognized the complex questions raised but was “also mindful of our role in creating spaces for debate and in academic and artistic freedom.”

He continued: “Museums and galleries have traditionally been a space of experimentation and challenge, and the Whitworth is a place where we may be able to debate, discuss and disagree well, within a safe and empathetic environment.”

UKLFI hit back, saying Hudson should face discipline for failures to “establish the accuracy” of the work. Forensic Architecture denied there were any inaccuracies.

The university was then said to have asked Hudson to resign — a move met with widespread condemnation.

Alistair Brown, the policy director of the Museums Association, said the “sacking of [Hudson] seems deeply mistaken, wrong-headed and unethical. Museums must be able to explore difficult and controversial issues without fearing this kind of reprisal.”

Oliver Basciano, the editor at large of ArtReview, said Hudson was the “most interesting director the UK has” and that his departure was a “disgrace.”