Indiana University, Cancellation of Samia Halaby’s Art Exhibit

December 2023
Indiana University (Public college or university)
Bloomington, Indiana

Identity of Speakers

  • Samia Halaby


Additional Information

  • Incident Nature:
  • Incident Political Orientation:
    Left wing
  • Incident Responses:
    Rally or Protests
  • Incident Status:
    No litigation
  • Did not involve Speech Codes


Samia Halaby, an internationally recognized Palestinian-American abstract artist, planned to exhibit her artwork at Indiana University’s Eskenazi Muesum of Art in early February 2024. The exhibition, which required three years of preparation, was titled Samia Halaby: Centers of Energy. The exhibit was designed to be a retrospective on her distinguished decades-long career and featured artwork dating as far back as the 1960s. The exhibition also contained a piece from Halaby’s private collection, titled “Our Beautiful Land of Palestine Stolen in the Night of History.”

On December 20th, however, the museum’s leadership abruptly told Halaby’s team that the exhibition was canceled, citing vague security concerns. Halaby states that the university officials never exactly specified what those security concerns were, and that, in reality,“[i]t is my being Palestenian they object to, not to my artwork.”

The cancellation led to a wave of backlash with students and faculty leading three separate protests both on and off campus. Numerous national organizations, including the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and the Middle East Studies Association, have also sent letters to IU’s president, Pamela Whitten, asking her to reinstate Halaby’s exhibition. Nearly 16,000 people have also signed on to an online petition with the same demand.

On January 16, IU’s provost, Rahul Shrivastav, responded to the outrage, stating that the decision was not influenced by anyone outside of IU. Instead, Shrivastav claimed that there were “clearly competing values,” and that the exhibit was a “potential lightning rod at a charged political moment that might draw ongoing or major protests.”

Unsurprisingly, the provost’s remarks satisfied no one. Students and faculty continued to decry Halaby’s cancellation, but their concerns seem to fall on deaf ears as the university has shown no indication of reconsidering its position.