The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) has written to the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) regarding their decision in March to cancel the exhibition Wall + Response over objections to an idea expressed in one of the pieces.
It is our understanding that when Wall + Response was approved by library officials, the poems and murals comprising the project were already completed in full. It was only one week before the opening, when concerns were voiced over one of the murals, that attitudes changed.
The mural in question depicts a sea of protestors holding various signs, including one that reads: “Zionism is Racism.” NCAC emphasizes that critiques of Zionism are controversial and often erroneously called out as antisemitic. Zionism is a specific political ideology, that should not be confused with Jewish identity. The cancellation of this exhibition over the representation of an opinion critical of this political ideology undermines the Library’s mission and precludes the opportunity to foster meaningful conversation between its diverse communities on exactly what the words on the sign mean in context.
NCAC urges the SFPL to uphold its duties as a public institution to serve both the critics of the work, as well as the artists and those who agree with them. While censorship of controversial ideas often appears to present an easier solution than fostering dialogue, the latter is critical to a functioning democratic society. Libraries serve as platforms for this essential dialogue through their support of free speech and the open exchange of ideas in the face of perennial calls for censorship.
Please read our full letter to SFPL below.