Africa’s biggest street art festival drops Israeli sponsorship following artists protest

Organizers of the annual International Public Arts Festival being held in South Africa have dropped Israeli sponsorship for the event following sustained pressure from the South African BDS chapter.

February 24, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Israeli artwashing in South Africa
(Photo: Baz Art/Facebook/Middle East Eye)

Organizers of Africa’s biggest street/public arts festival, the International Public Arts Festival (IPAF), announced on Wednesday, February 23, that they will terminate all sponsorship links with the Israeli government. This was after a number of boycotts by artists scheduled to perform, according to a report in Middle East Eye. Baz-Art, the organization which convenes the annual festival held in Cape Town, South Africa, in a statement cited “consultations with local civil society groups” following which it “decided to discontinue the sponsorship agreement with the Israeli embassy in South Africa, including a refund of all contributions.” Several prominent artists and cultural/creative organizations had withdrawn their participation from the event in the last few days due to its links with the Israeli government and the South African Zionist Federation, a local pro-Israeli propaganda organization. 

Baz-Art added that it will continue to allow Israeli artists to participate in the festival in individual capacity, noting that “street art is historically a means of campaigning for positive change. We firmly believe in artistic freedom as defined by Unesco as ‘the freedom to imagine, create and distribute diverse cultural expressions, free of governmental censorship, political interference or the pressure of non-state actors. Furthermore, we wholeheartedly believe that all artists, irrespective of the colour of their skin, religion, or nationality, must have ‘the rights of citizens to access artistic expressions and take part in cultural life’ – which represents one of the key ideals of democracy.” 

Artists had earlier accused the organizers of working with the Israeli government and Zionist groups to facilitate performances and events by several Israeli artists with close ties to the government. Such artists actively work towards whitewashing Israel’s public image internationally by spreading misleading positive propaganda to deflect attention from Israel’s military occupation of Palestine and its longstanding subjugation of the Palestinian people. 

Artists and groups that decided to take their names off the festival list to protest Israeli sponsorship include Ismail Mahomed, director of the Center for Creative Arts in Durban, and well-known South African playwright Mike van Graan, among several others. The two simultaneously also canceled their participation in the first National Public Arts Conference, scheduled to start on Wednesday, after the organizers refused to sever their ties with the Israeli government. The public benefit organization Business and Arts South Africa withdrew its support to the festival, while community members from the famous District Six neighborhood in Cape Town stated that they would not allow their organization to paint murals in the area, according to the South African Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) coalition.

BDS South Africa in a statement welcoming the organizers’ decision said that “in South Africa, we know from our own struggle against apartheid brutality how international BDS contributed to supporting our resistance and bringing down the apartheid regime. For anyone that truly cares about human rights, dignity and freedom, there can be no collaboration with an apartheid state.” The coalition had been lobbying intensely over the last few days for the organizers to “take a stand against apartheid Israel and refuse to normalise Israel’s apartheid regime?” Addressing the organizer, BDS South Africa said, “if we accept support or funding from the Israeli government or work with Zionist groups on cultural exchanges between Israel and South Africa, we are complicit in artwashing the criminal behaviour of the Israeli state.”