The eminent abstract artist Samia Halaby was recently told that a long-planned retrospective of her work at Indiana University in February has been cancelled. Halaby, who studied at Indiana and Michigan State Universities and became the first woman professor at the Yale School of Art, has Jordanian and US citizenship. She is also, however, a Jerusalem-born Palestinian victim of the first Nakba and a public advocate for Palestinian human rights. That was enough to get her exhibition cancelled. The email telling her of the cancellation stated, “academic leaders and campus officials canceled the exhibit due to concerns about guaranteeing the integrity of the exhibit for its duration.” That deserves reading a second time: “…concerns about guaranteeing the integrity of the exhibition for its duration.” Could there be a more opaque justification? Has any Israeli or American Zionist artist ever had their exhibition cancelled for a similar reason? The original report of Halaby’s unfair treatment can be found here.

Indiana University Cancels Palestinian Artist Samia Halaby’s Exhibition

Supporters are calling on the school to reinstate what would have been 87-year-old artist’s first retrospective in the US.
Avatar photoElaine Velie 10 January 2024
Artist Samia Halaby (photo via Wikimedia Commons)
Over 1,300 people have signed a petition urging Indiana University at Bloomington (IU) to reinstate a canceled retrospective of Palestinian artist Samia Halaby. The show, titled Centers of Energy, was originally scheduled to open at the institution’s Eskenazi Museum of Art (EMA) on February 10, but according to a missive penned by a board member of the artist’s foundation, Madison Gordon, the school abruptly canceled the show via email in late December due to “safety concerns.”
Centers of Energy would have been the first retrospective of the 87-year-old abstract artist’s work in the United States. It was slated to include around 35 drawings, prints, and paintings created throughout the course of Halaby’s long career, spanning her time as a student at IU and Michigan State University (MSU) and her tenure as the first woman professor at the Yale School of Art.
In response to Hyperallergic‘s request for comment, an IU spokesperson said that “academic leaders and campus officials canceled the exhibit due to concerns about guaranteeing the integrity of the exhibit for its duration.” The circulating petition, however, hypothesizes that the university’s decision is related to Halaby’s vocal pro-Palestine advocacy. In the months since Hamas’s October 7 attack and Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza, cultural institutions have canceled a slew of exhibitions and events featuring artists and curators who have expressed their support of Palestine.
“In the absence of any response from the administration, it is apparent that the University is canceling the show to distance itself from the cause of Palestinian freedom,” the petition text reads. “For 50 years, Samia has been an outspoken and principled activist for the dignity, freedom, and self-determination of the Palestinian people.”
Reached for comment by Hyperallergic, Halaby expressed her agreement. “Clearly the intent is to suppress Palestinian voices at this very time,” she said. “If that were not their intention why not accept my offer to meet with them and clear matters? Why did they not speak up during the three long years of preparation?”
Samia Halaby, “All Blue” (1982) (via Wikimedia Commons)
Halaby penned two letters to President Pamela Whitten on December 27 and January 8 urging the university to reinstate the show, explaining that the unexpected nature of the cancellation, after years of collaborative work, is upsetting.
“Equally distressing is that this notice coincides at a time when Palestinian civilians are being massacred, starved, and displaced by the millions in Gaza,” Halaby wrote in her December 27 letter to the school, explaining that she was born in Jerusalem and survived the 1948 Nakba when she was 11 years old and has spent decades advocating for the life, safety, and self-determination of Palestinians. “What is being inflicted on the people of Gaza carves a deep wound.”
The exhibition was conceived as part of a two-pronged series to be displayed across both IU’s Eskenazi Museum and MSU’s Broad Art Museum (BAM). Per the institution’s website, the latter iteration of her survey, titled Eye Witness, is still scheduled to open on June 28. BAM Curator Rachel Winter and EMA Curator Elliot Josephine Leila Reichert, who organized the shows, said they had no comment.
While IU has removed mention of Halaby’s show from its museum website, an over 200-page catalogue titled Centers of Energy is still available for pre-sale with the University of Chicago Press.
“We hope the show is reinstated to honor their great work,” Gordon told Hyperallergic of Halaby’s, her studio’s, and the curators’ three years of planning. “And to send a message that Palestinian artists deserve a voice.”
The Jordanian-American, New York-based artist Samer Akroush, who goes by Ridikkuluz, publicized the petition on Instagram and lamented the news of the show’s last-minute closure in a statement to Hyperallergic. He noted that he is close friends with the exhibition’s two curators and that he had met the artist personally and admired her career’s recent growth. “We were really hyped about this,” Ridikkuluz said. “She’s 87 now, and the world is slowly giving her her flowers.”
Editor’s note 1/11/24 10:45am EDT: This article has been updated with quotes from Samia Halaby.