More than 150 artists have pledged to boycott Helsinki’s Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma until it severs relations with British-Finnish billionaire Chaim “Poju” Zabludowicz, who sits on the board of the institution’s support foundation. An avid collector who has over the past decade loaned a number of works to Kiasma, Zabludowicz is the founder of the Zabludowicz Collection, with branches in London, New York City, and Sarvisalo, Finland. He is also the CEO of London-based investment group Tamares. The company was founded by Zabludowicz’s father, who amassed his personal wealth through facilitating the arms trade between Finland and Israel. It is currently a stakeholder in Knafaim Holdings, a contractor providing military aircraft maintenance services to the Israeli Air Force, and in Palantir Technologies, which develops data-analytics tools used by Israeli security forces spying and profiling. As well, Zabludowicz is a cofounder of the pro-Israel lobbying group BICOM (Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre). Established in 2002, BICOM seeks to reject all characterizations of Israel as an apartheid state, as it was described by Amnesty International in a report early this year.
In October, Finnish artists Terike Haapoja and Eero Yli-Vakkuri published an open letter calling for Kiasma to remove Zabludowicz from its eleven-member support foundation, which he was instrumental in establishing. The missive garnered more than seventy signatures, including that of Pilvi Takala, who exhibited at the 2022 Venice Biennale. Earlier this month, the protesting artists coalesced their position under the banner “Kiasma Strike.”
“As art workers, we expect the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art to refuse financial or other support from private parties involved in arms trading or manufacturing and financial investments in conflict zones,” wrote the group on their website.
“We, the signatories, refuse to sell our labor and art to Kiasma as long as it collaborates with organizations whose leadership includes representatives of the Zabludowicz Art Trust, like at the moment is the case with the Kiasma Support Foundation. Our stance is based on the fact that organizations Chaim ‘Poju’ Zabludowicz funds support the apartheid regime imposed on Palestine and the Palestinian people by the State of Israel.”
To date, that petition has amassed more than 160 signatures. In a joint statement, Kimmo Levä, director general of the Finnish National Gallery, under whose auspices Kiasma operates, and Leevi Haapala, Kiasma’s director, averred that they said that they “respect the opinion of the artists who made the petition,” and said they would be willing to work with the artists once the strike ended. They emphasized the role of the Kiasma Support Foundation as independent from the museum, noting that the fundraising body does note comprise and is wholly separate from the museum itself. “The National Gallery does not have decision-making power over the composition of the foundation’s board,” they asserted.
Zabludowicz defended himself against the accusations made by the striking artists in a statement published by Hyperallergic December 2. “As a founding member of the Kiasma Support Foundation I believe in the importance of the museum as an independent and inclusive space,” he said. “ I am a proud Finnish citizen, a child of refugees from the holocaust who were given a home in a democratic Finland. This personal character attack based on negativity and misinformation attempts to call into question the ethics of the museum. I passionately support a Two-State Solution that guarantees the rights of Palestinians and Israelis to live and work side by side in peace, and I see no reason for this to be of any importance in my suitability for a place on the board of the Kiasma Support Foundation.”
Zabludowicz last year saw two dozen artists sever ties with the Zabludowicz Collection in London over Israel’s then-recent attacks on Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem as well as the continued illegal expulsions of Palestinian people from Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. Their actions followed on a call to action issued by the organization Boycott/Divest Zabludowicz (BDZ). Established in 2014 by a group of arts workers, BDZ has consistently called for the boycott of the Zabludowicz Art Trust, of which the collection is a subsidiary, over what they characterize as the trust’s continued complicity in the ongoing colonization and occupation of Palestine, and of apartheid policies against Palestinians.