SFAI Cancels Public Forum and Closes Abdessemed Exhibition
In response to a series of violent threats by animal-rights extremists, the San Francisco Art Institute announced today that the public discussion on Adel Abdessemed’s exhibition Don’t Trust Me, scheduled for Monday, 31 March, has been canceled. For the same reasons, the exhibition itself, which was temporarily suspended on Wednesday, 26 March, has now been permanently closed.
“We unconditionally repudiate these threats against SFAI,” stated President Chris Bratton: “My first concern is with the safety and security of SFAI’s students, faculty, staff, and their families, as well as members of the public that regularly visit the campus. In light of the violent threats by extremists against this institution, we are unfortunately forced to cancel any public discussion or display regarding this artwork.”
Soon after it opened, the Abdessemed exhibition became the subject of an orchestrated campaign by a number of animal-rights groups, including Animal Liberation Front (ALF), In Defense of Animals (IDA), and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). One result of this campaign was a parallel onslaught of explicit death threats and threats of sexual violence—as well as racial, religious, and homophobic slurs—against SFAI staff members and their families. The swift escalation from controversy to credible threats has regrettably forced SFAI to make a decision unprecedented in its 137-year history.
“Though we’ve decided to take this action,” said President Bratton, “SFAI stands behind the exhibition as an instance of a long-standing and serious commitment, on SFAI’s part, to reflection on, and free and open discussion of, contemporary global art and culture. As an institution, we take seriously our responsibility to encourage and promote such dialogue.”
“The artist,” continued President Bratton, “participated in an already-existing circuit of food production in a rural community in Mexico. The animals were raised for food, purchased, and professionally slaughtered. In fact, what causes the controversy is that Abdessemed, an artist, entered this exchange, filmed it, and exhibited it.”
“Here, then, is a case where highly local assumptions about how things are produced have come to inform how the world itself is seen. In general, consumption in the US is fueled by things produced out of sight and from far away. In many cultures, particularly those of the global south including Mexico, the killing of animals for food is often direct and present, not concealed from sight as is the case of industrialized food production here. This distinction is certainly relevant to Don’t Trust Me. Admittedly, this is an uncomfortable confrontation for some, but is nevertheless a real condition not only for animals, but also for the people whose lives are bound up with them. Simply stated, it is an outrage that threats of violence have, in this case, succeeded in derailing a public debate on issues that are critical to our everyday lives.”