South African artist Tracey Rose accused the Kunstmuseum Bern of having censored an artwork mentioning a “Muslim Holocaust” from her current retrospective there, claiming that the Swiss institution had objected to such phrasing.

On social media over the weekend, Rose also denounced the Kunstmuseum for hosting a talk on artistic freedom connected to her show. She claimed that she had not been invited to the panel, which included one of the exhibition’s curators and the museum’s director.

“This is prejudicial to the global audience to whom my Artwork speaks, as well as elitist and exclusionary – distasteful to say the least; and abjectly draconian given that the discussion will centre around the horrors of the imbalanced war in The Holy Land, and the genocidal slaughter of unarmed civilians in Palestine by the Israeli government,” Rose wrote in a statement posted to Facebook on Saturday, the day before the talk was held.

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A Kunstmuseum Bern representative denied that any censorship had taken place and said that Rose had been given opportunities to speak publicly about her work at the institution.

“Tracey Rose was in Bern for the exhibition set-up, press conference and vernissage and had several opportunities to make public appearances – in fact, her works speak loudly for her in the extensive exhibition that has been on display since February,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to ARTnews.

Rose has frequently addressed misogyny, racism, South African politics and history, and more in her art, which has been shown widely in the art world, appearing in editions of the Venice Biennale, Documenta, the Sharjah Biennial, the Bienal de São Paulo, and more.

Her retrospective, “Shooting Down Babylon,” first appeared in 2022 at Cape Town’s Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art, which organized it, and then traveled to New York’s Queens Museum in 2023. At both of those venues, the exhibition was praised by critics and staged without controversy. (Both exhibitions opened prior to the October 7 Hamas attack and Israel’s subsequent military actions in Gaza.)

In her posts over the weekend, Rose alleged that the Kunstmuseum Bern had censored her 2012 video A Muster of Peacocks: THE SHOAH from display in the exhibition because it included the phrase “Stop the Muslim Holocaust.” The video had appeared in both the Cape Town and Queens iterations of the exhibition.

Initially commissioned for a show that took place in Cairo during the Arab Spring, Rose made the video in response to her stay in the Egyptian city, where she watched footage of the Port Said Stadium massacre of 2012, which killed dozens of people. Egyptians have claimed the lack of security at the stadium was intentional, since fans of the Al Ahly soccer league had shown up at anti-government protests. Rose said she made the work while pregnant with her son, in her Berlin apartment, not far from where the building’s inhabitants were once deported for Auschwitz.

“The museum directors told us that it is illegal to use the word ‘holocaust’ in Switzerland to describe mass genocide of any other group of people outside of the Jewish Holocaust in Europe during WWII,” Rose said in an email to ARTnews, speaking on behalf of herself and her studio representatives. “As South Africans, this challenged our belief in freedom of speech and expression.”

Rose said that she tried to come up with an alternative in which the video’s audio, partially crafted from her son’s sobs, would play in the Kunstmuseum Bern’s galleries. But she said that when she went to the opening, the audio was not installed.

A museum spokesperson said that it is normal for travel exhibitions to change as they move between venues and they had advised the artist against show A Muster of Peacock given “the political situation,” adding, “She decided to follow our advice and has not since signaled to the curators of the exhibition or the Kunstmuseum Bern that she would like to revise her decision.”

In Switzerland, Rose’s show gained negative press before the show opened because the artist had in 2021 signed an open letter addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That letter, which was signed by thousands of artists, referred to Israel’s actions as an “apartheid” and called the country a “colonizing power.”

Ahead of the show’s opening in February, the Swiss media resurfaced Rose’s signature, spurring Jonathan Kreutner, secretary general of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, to accuse her of having “radical and non-constructive positions.” In response, the museum added a lengthy statement to its online description for the show.

“Tracey Rose has Jewish and Muslim roots,” the statement reads. “She condemns the cruel attacks by Hamas on Israel and the severe retaliatory measures by the Israeli government, which also affect the unarmed civilian population in Palestine. She condemns all forms of Islamophobia, racism and anti-Semitism and has clearly spoken out in favor of a ceasefire between Israel and Palestine: ‘I believe in the right of the State of Israel and the State of Palestine to exist.’”

A description for Sunday’s talk reiterated some of the background about the controversy over Rose’s signature of the 2021 letter. The stated aim of the panel was to discuss “the meaning and limits of artistic freedom.” Among the panelists were Zeitz MOCAA director and chief curator Koyo Kouoh and Kunstmuseum Bern director Nina Zimmer, along with political science and African studies experts and Ralph Lewin, president of the Swiss Federation of of Jewish Communities.

Rose accused Swiss politicians and Kouoh of “abusive treatment.” Speaking directly to the panelists, she wrote on Facebook, “You have all failed in your duties as cultural practitioners and are not deserving of your positions, where you receive overly generous salaries while failing to pay Artists labour and adequate loan fees.”

A representative for Zeitz MOCAA did not respond to a request for comment.

Update, 6/18/24, 10:35 a.m.: This article has been updated to include a statement from a Kunstmuseum Bern representative.