Nearly 130 Finnish artists have halted relations with the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, a branch of the Finland National Gallery, after the museum refused to remove a Finnish billionaire with ties to the arms industry from its board.
In a statement released on Monday, the artists said the boycott was in protest of the museum’s relationship with Poju Zabludowicz, whose family made its wealth in part through partnering the Israeli and Finnish arms industries. He ranks on the ARTnews Top 200 Collectors list and is a representative of a trust that manages a 3,000-work collection.
“As art workers, we expect the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art to refuse financial or other support from private parties involved in arms trading or manufacturing and financial investments in conflict zones,” the statement reads.
Zabludowicz lives in the United Kingdom and oversees Tamares, the family’s holding company which invests in real estate. He’s involved in pro-Israel advocacy as the founder of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, a lobbying group, and has donated to Conservative Friends of Israel. A spokesperson from the trust told ARTnews that the Zabludowicz family does not currently have any connection to military operations in either country.
This isn’t the first call from artists for museums to divest from the Zabludowicz Art Trust. Last year, 25 artists disaffiliated themselves from past collaborations and exhibitions with the collection. That action was organized by BDZ, which stands for Boycott/Divest Zabludowicz—a riff on the Palestinian-led advocacy group BDS, which promotes financial and cultural divestments from Israel.
Museum ties to Zabludowicz philanthropy had come under renewed scrutiny after an outbreak of violence between Israeli forces and Palestine in May 2021 that saw 12 Israeli civilians killed and 256 Palestinians killed in Gaza, including at least 66 children.
In a letter from that time, BDZ said that Zabludowicz is “directly connected to Tamares, a holding company initially established with money historically made from arms dealing and contracts with the Israeli Air Force, but which still currently has ties to property in illegally occupied Ma’ale Adumim, BICOM (Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre) and significant financial contributions to Conservative Friends of Israel, and is thus complicit in and reproduces the Israeli-state-led apartheid, which normalises the oppression of Palestinians.”
In a response to the de-authorization, a spokesperson from the Zabludowicz Collection reissued a statement shared online by Anita and Poju Zabludowicz in spring 2021 voicing support of a “Two-State Solution that guarantees the rights of Palestinians and Israelis to live and work side-by-side in peace,” the couple stated. “We welcome the ceasefire as it is only through respectful and diplomatic dialogue that a permanent peace can be achieved. We know that violence and aggression are not the answer and mourn the lives lost on both sides.”
Kiasma said in a statement to the Jerusalem Post that “as an organization operating under the Finnish state, the National Gallery and its museums cannot participate in boycotts directed at individual citizens.”
It added: “We participate in those boycotts and blockades to which the Finnish state has committed and directed us to.”