US art galleries slammed for 'funding genocide, apartheid and settler colonialism'

us art museum palestine protest
6 min read

Pro-Palestine protests are continuing unabated in the US, as vast swathes of the public express their furious rejection of the Biden administration's role in Israel's genocidal assault on the Gaza Strip.

At the forefront of these protests in recent weeks have been those targeting prestigious art galleries and museums — particularly in New York.

MoMA occupied by protesters

At 3.45 pm on Saturday 10 February, New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) took the unprecedented step of closing its galleries to the public. This followed hundreds of Palestine solidarity demonstrators amassing in the main halls of several of the museum's floors.

They were there to protest the involvement of members of the museum's board of trustees in funding Israel.

"Pro-Palestine protests are continuing unabated in the US, as vast swathes of the public express their furious rejection at the Biden administration's role in Israel's genocidal assault on the Gaza Strip"

The prestigious art museum contains works by 70,000 artists, as well as an archive of over 300,000 books and receives an estimated 2.5 million visitors annually, who flock to view its varied exhibits, which include displays by artists, sculptors, architects and photographers, as well as film screenings.  

That day, dozens of activists were visible through the glass front of the museum building holding up placards with "Ceasefire Now", "Free Palestine", "From the River to the Sea" and "Cultural Workers Stand with Gaza" written on them.

Likewise, a group of protesters hung a banner from the second-floor corridor which overlooks the museum's central hall and back exit, on which was written: "MoMA Trustees are funding genocide, apartheid & settler colonialism".

The protesters, numbering between 500-800, distributed over 1,000 mock museum guides calling for the dismissal of members of the museum's board of trustees, including Leon D. Black, Larry Fink, Paula Crown, Marie-Josée Kravis and Ronald S. Lauder, demanding they cease their funding of genocide in the Gaza Strip.

The mock guides read: "While MoMA purports ideologies of 'change' and 'creativity' the Board of Trustees directly fund zionist occupation via arms manufacturing, lobbying, and corporate investment. At the same time, the museum derives its legitimacy from artists and cultural workers, including those actively engaged in anti-colonial struggle."

One of the board members included Larry Fink, the CEO of Black Rock, the largest asset manager in the world. The multinational investment company is valued at $9.42 billion and has been widely criticised in the past due to its investments in multiple arms companies which supply the Israeli military, including Lockheed Martin, RTX, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and General Dynamics.

Organisers of the protest included Writers against the War on Gaza (WAWOG), the New York branch of the Palestinian Youth Movement, Strike MoMA, the Gulf Labor Coalition, the Art Workers' Coalition (AWC), and The Undying Struggle for Black Liberation.

Brooklyn Museum

On the same day, in another rebuke against the silence of American museums, a large demonstration took place outside the Brooklyn Museum, organised by Within Our Lifetime (WOL) and Decolonize This Place (DTP).

The art museum is the second largest museum in New York, and contains African, European, Oceanic and Japanese artworks, among others.

Donning keffiyehs and wielding placards and flags, demonstrators said the museum administration had partnerships with Israeli institutions in the economic and military sectors.

A statement issued by the organisers identified the Bank of New York (BNY) Mellon as one of the museum's corporate partners, which has a $13 billion investment in the Israeli arms firm, Elbit Systems, and supports the Friends of the IDF Donor Advised Fund.

The statement demanded the museum adopt "a stance against the ethnic cleansing" and cut "all relations with the institutions and the companies which are complicit and divest from them."

Chants of "Israel bombs, USA pays; how many kids did you kill today" and "Shame! Shame! Shame!" were shouted by the crowd during the action, at which a number were arrested.

"These museums represent colonialism," founder of WOL, Nerdeen Kiswani, stated to Hyperallergic online arts magazine.  

Kiswani pointed out that several artists whose works have been displayed in the Brooklyn Museum, as well as its employees, had expressed their support for the liberation of Palestine and called for a ceasefire, including the artist Suneil Sanzgiri.

Sanzgiri withdrew his film from the Berlin International Film Festival last month in solidarity with the global boycott of German institutions — due to Berlin's repression against those criticising the Israeli government.

The two protests coincided with over 100 New York City cultural workers at the Metropolitan, Brooklyn and Studio Art Museums issuing a statement condemning their institutions' "disgraceful silence toward the Gaza genocide."

"Whereas the museums and cultural institutions in our city claim that they are committed to justice and the social role and fairness, their silence has made them complicit in the killing of over 27,000 people in Palestine, with the existence of thousands of others trapped under the rubble as a result of the bombings since 7 October," stated the signatories.

Closing their doors

Alongside the museums, several well-known art exhibitions in New York have also closed their doors due to protests. This includes the Pace Gallery, which closed on 27 January after messages condemning the genocide in Gaza were daubed on the outside of their building in red paint.

This occurred after the gallery published a video by Israeli artist Michel Rovner in which he called for a return of the Israeli hostages.  

In the same month, the Lévy Gorvy Dayan exhibition was also closed suddenly, when protestors affixed posters to the walls of the building protesting the views of its owners on Israel’s assault on Palestine.

Several galleries in New York's Chinatown were also targeted, with messages written on their walls calling on merchants and visitors to art galleries to support Gaza and confront the US government policy of unlimited support for Israel.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.

Translated by Rose Chacko   

This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirrors the source's original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.

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