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Pro-Palestinian sculpture sparks controversy at Burning Man

The debates and protests sparked by Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip have made their way to seemingly every corner of the world, including the free-spirited desert festival in Nevada known as Burning Man.

Organizers of the festival, where “radical self-expression” is one of its guiding principles, were embroiled in controversy this week over the approval of a canopy-sized sculpture of a sliced ​​watermelon titled “From the River to the Sea.” .

The sliced ​​8-foot by 14-foot fruit (red flesh, green and white peel, and black seeds) has the same colors as those of the Palestinian flag and has become a symbol of solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

The sculpture was among dozens of art installations expected to be displayed just outside the festival’s central campground, but was removed from the website when an online petition to remove it began circulating, according to the San Francisco Standard. Although the art installation is no longer listed on the website, it is unclear whether it will be displayed at Burning Man, which is scheduled for August 25 to September 2.

Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley, a spokesperson for Burning Man, said in a written statement to the Times that the artwork was submitted using an anonymous profile, which violates the terms of the event’s art placement submission process.

“In addition, the content of the list contained language that some considered hate speech,” Debucquoy-Dodley said. “We do not tolerate the use of violent, hateful or inflammatory language on our platforms.”

The spokesperson said people who submitted the art installation to the website can appeal.

“Based on the circumstances around how the listing was submitted, we believe that this is likely not an actual piece of art arriving in Black Rock City, but rather that the listing was intended to provoke an emotional response within the community.” Burning Man community,” Debucquoy said. -Dodley wrote.

An archived version of the website includes an image and description of the sculpture. The artist was identified only as “Decolonize Now.”

“The watermelon is a powerful symbol for Palestinians. In 1967, when Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza and annexed East Jerusalem, the Israeli government made the public display of the Palestinian flag a criminal offense throughout the territory,” the description reads. “To circumvent the ban, Palestinians began using watermelon because, when opened, the fruit bears the national colors of the Palestinian flag: red, black, white and green.”

But at the center of the controversy was the phrase “From the river to the sea,” according to the petition.

He maintains that the phrase “has been condemned as anti-Semitic and recognized as a call for the destruction of Israel” and that the slogan “perpetuates the falsehood that Jews have no historical connection to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.” However, historical records show that Jewish civilization has been present in the region for more than 3,000 years.”

The festival is the latest to become embroiled in the heated debate over the war between Israel and Hamas, which began after the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas militants in which hundreds of Israelis were killed or taken hostage. The United States designated Hamas as a terrorist organization in the 1990s.

However, the war has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, including many children, according to the UN. The death toll and humanitarian crisis in Gaza have sparked anti-war demonstrations across the United States, including at universities.

So far, the online petition to remove the watermelon sculpture has gathered just over 1,000 signatures and includes comments from people who signed it.

“Burning Man should not allow the installation of a watermelon that represents political statements against another group,” one person wrote.

“It’s crazy that this art was approved after what’s happening in the world after October 7th – it needs to be taken down ASAP,” another wrote.