Two paintings by Norway's Haakon Gullvaag that show an Israeli flag have been withdrawn from an exhibition at the French Cultural Centre in the Syrian capital, the artist said on Monday.
His "Terra Sancta" exhibition contains works about the Israeli offensive against the Islamist-ruled Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009.
Two of the works in which the Israeli flag features were removed from the show on Saturday, an angry Gullvaag told AFP by phone from Oslo, adding the French embassy in Damascus "explained to us that it was their decision.
One of the withdrawn pieces (Photo: AFP)
"This was done without contacting the artist, the curator or the Norwegian embassy. I have never experienced something similar in my entire life."
The artist said the French embassy said it had concerns about a hotel near the cultural centre which normally has many Iranian guests.
"They were afraid that the Iranians would misunderstand the motifs as being Israel-friendly. Then the cultural centre claimed that some students have complained about showing the Israeli flag at all," Gullvaag said.
He said the cultural centre had "approved every work before the opening."
"I have a lot of Palestinian colleagues and friends, and have visited the West Bank several times. I feel a need to express my compassion for their cause, and for their suffering," Gullvaag said.
The two works removed from the exhibition were "The Flag" and one panel from "Invasion Triptych."
"You can't just rip out one third of a work and expect it to make sense afterwards," he said.
Norway's ambassador in Damascus, Rolph Willy Hansen, said it was "unacceptable" to remove the paintings without consulting the artist.
He said contacts were continuing with the French embassy, the cultural centre and Gullvaag to try to find a solution.
Neither the French embassy nor the cultural centre had returned AFP's calls by late on Monday.
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