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Nova festival exhibit rejects claims it “Disneyfies” 7 October massacre

An exhibition dedicated to remembering the people killed during Hamas’s brutal attack at the Nova music festival on 7 October has been met with protests and criticisms that it “Disneyfies” trauma. But organisers have rejected these claims, saying survivors of the massacre were at the heart of the project.

Visitors at the exhibition in Wall Street, New York, walk through a sprawling 50,000sq ft venue that recreates the festival camp. Dimly-lit with trance music pulsating throughout, personal objects that belonged to the victims are displayed among the colourful tents, sleeping bags, lounge chairs and stools adorned with fairy lights.

It begins with videos of smiling festivalgoers dancing at the event in southern Israel, before visitors walk through installations recounting the chaotic scenes of the surprise Hamas attack.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 18: A woman looks at destroyed cars taken from the Nova festival at "The Nova Music Festival Exhibition: October 7th 06:29 AM, The Moment Music Stood Still" on April 18, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images for The Nova Music Festival Exhibition)
Destroyed cars taken from the Nova music festival displayed at the New York exhibition (Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

Objects on display bear the scars of the slaughter of more than 360 mostly young people – scorched cars, chairs riddled with bullet holes and shoes abandoned as people ran for their lives. Hamas’ cross-border attack on 7 October killed 1,200 people in Israel, with some 250 hostages taken into Gaza.

Organisers said they wanted to create an immersive and in-depth experience to share what had happened that fateful day, but critics say it goes too far.

Horrific videos are played on a loop, including clips taken by Hamas. Mobile phones display messages of final goodbyes to loved ones, and footage filmed by victims show them screaming and crying as they flee the hail of bullets and hide from the attackers.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 18: Personal and camping items taken from the festival recreate the festival layout at "The Nova Music Festival Exhibition: October 7th 06:29 AM, The Moment Music Stood Still" on April 18, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images for The Nova Music Festival Exhibition)
Personal belongings and camping items recreate the festival layout (Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

Jeremy Loffredo, a journalist in New York, described it as a “Disney-type trauma experience” in a post on X, with pictures showing a gift shop at the end of the exhibit stocked with hats and t-shirts.

Michelle Rojas-Tal, who worked with organisers behind the exhibit, rejected claims that the exhibit, which debuted in Tel Aviv, exploited trauma.

“The people who created the exhibition are the survivors themselves,” she told i. “None of this would have gone forward if it were not for the effort of the survivors.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 18: Screens show clips from the attack on Nova are displayed next to personal and camping items taken from the festival recreating the festival layout at "The Nova Music Festival Exhibition: October 7th 06:29 AM, The Moment Music Stood Still" on April 18, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images for The Nova Music Festival Exhibition)
Screens show clips from the attack (Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

She pointed to a healing tent toward the end of the exhibition that signifies how survivors are trying to piece together their lives under the mantra ‘We will dance again’.

“It’s not just about the showing and sharing the horrific tragedy, but the journey that this community is on to heal,” said Ms Rojas-Tal.

Organisers said they were shaken by a pro-Palestine protest outside the exhibition on Monday, when large crowds of demonstrators set off green and red smoke flares and chanted ‘Free Palestine’.

It drew condemnation from US officials. White House spokesperson Andrew Bates called the demonstrations “horrifying behaviour”, while New York Mayor Eric Adams visited the exhibition on Tuesday and called the protest “despicable”.

US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote on X: “The callousness, dehumanisation, and targeting of Jews on display at last night’s protest outside the Nova Festival exhibit was atrocious antisemitism – plain and simple.”

The pro-Palestinian group Within Our Lifetime, which organised the protest, said it called for a citywide Day of Rage for Gaza in response to the Israeli strikes in Nuseirat Camp in central Gaza on Saturday, which killed more than 270 Palestinians. The attacks came amid an operation to free four Israeli hostages that were held there.

Within Our Lifetime described the Nova exhibition as “Zionist propaganda” and dismissed the music festival as “a rave next to a concentration camp”.

The festival took place in the Negev desert, near Kibbutz Re’im, two miles from the border of Gaza, where 2.3 million Palestinians had been living under an Israeli blockade for 16 years before the Hamas attack on 7 October. The war has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, and has displaced more than 80 per cent of the population.

Ms Rojas-Tal said the Nova exhibition was not a political event. “It is honouring the lives of those lost and bringing awareness to the hostages still being held [by Hamas].

“For a group of people to come and scream about an exhibition that is meant to honour their lives, and ensure that people understood what took place, is truly heartbreaking.”

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