UKLFI: Supporting Israel with legal skills

Whitworth Art Gallery did not check controversial exhibition content

Whitworth Art Gallery carried out no risk assessment and did not check the accuracy of factual statements before agreeing to host a controversial exhibition by Forensic Architecture. Nor did it give any consideration to the impact on community relations.

Whitworth Art Gallery, part of Manchester University, has been hosting an exhibition created by Forensic Architecture called “Cloud Studies” on “environmental racism”.

An introductory statement by Forensic Architecture alleges that in Israel’s military action in Gaza in May 2021 “The ferocity of the bombing produced man made environmental disasters, with underground explosions leading to artificial earthquakes under Gaza city. At the same time, the targeting of agricultural storage facilities produced massive ‘air quakes’, with clouds of toxic fumes covering entire residential areas. Elsewhere across Palestine we saw the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian neighbourhoods … ”.

UKLFI has contested the accuracy  of these and other claims in the introductory statement  and wrote to Manchester University querying whether the University had complied with its legal obligation to have due regard to the need to promote good relations between persons of different religions, ethnicities and nationalities.

UKLFI followed up with a Freedom of Information request, to which Manchester University was obliged to respond within 20 working days. The request asked in relation to the exhibition:

  1. What risk assessment (if any) was conducted?

  2. What consideration (if any) was given to the need to foster good relations between persons of different ethnicities, nationalities and religions?

  3. What consideration (if any) was given to the need to eliminate harassment, victimisation and other conduct contrary to the Equality Act 2010?

  4. What was the outcome of any consideration of any of the above?

  5. What steps (if any) were taken to establish the accuracy of factual allegations made in the exhibition?

The University has now responded, confirming that “no recorded information is held relevant to the specific points raised in your request”.

This appears to conflict with an assurance given on behalf of the University that the Whitworth Gallery had established the accuracy of the work presented in the exhibition. It also appears to confirm that the decisions to hold the exhibition and approve its content were made unlawfully in breach of the public sector equality duty in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 (“the PSED”).

UKLFI has asked the University to acknowledge that the decisions to hold the exhibition and to approve its content were made unlawfully, to undertake in future to comply with the PSED when taking decisions in relation to exhibitions at the Whitworth Art Gallery, and to investigate the provision of the apparently incorrect information that the Gallery had checked the accuracy of the work presented.

Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UKLFI commented, “If the University had complied with the PSED at the outset, the ensuing situation would have been very different since it could then have quietly rejected the introductory statement or refused to hold the exhibition altogether. The University’s obligation to take such steps as are reasonably practicable to secure freedom of speech within the law for its members, students, staff and visiting speakers does not require it to allow its art gallery to be misused for political propaganda.”