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Laurie Anderson Withdraws from German University Post Amid Controversy Over Pro-Palestine Views

Folkwang University Reverses Course on Laurie Anderson Appointment Amid Controversy Over Her Views on Palestine

The New York-based artist and musician Laurie Anderson has withdrawn from her position as a visiting professor at the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen, Germany, following scrutiny over her views on Palestine.

Anderson, known for her hit 1981 song “O Superman,” was initially appointed as the Pina Bausch Professor, a position named after a renowned dancer. However, the university reversed its decision after Anderson signed an open letter in 2021 expressing support for Palestine.

The letter, signed by numerous artists, including Nan Goldin, Kara Walker, and Simone Leigh, urged support for Palestine and condemned the Israeli government’s policies towards Palestinians. It also criticized the conflation of legitimate criticism of Israel with antisemitism.

The Folkwang University of the Arts claimed in a press release that the letter “takes up boycott demands from the anti-Israel BDS movement,” although the letter itself does not mention BDS or a boycott of Israel. BDS, which stands for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, is a global movement that aims to pressure Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territories.

In response to the controversy, Anderson stated that she withdrew from the project due to the university’s questioning of her political opinions. She emphasized the need for freedom of expression and artistic freedom.

The incident highlights the ongoing debate in Germany about the intersection of art, politics, and academic freedom. Artists who express pro-Palestine views have faced canceled exhibitions and withdrawn opportunities, particularly in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attack.

Earlier this month, Berlin attempted to implement a funding clause based on a definition of antisemitism that many believed could be used to prevent pro-Palestine artists from receiving funding. However, the clause was repealed following mass protests.