Opinion

An Open Letter to the Pit Gallery About Its “Glendale Biennial” and the Communities It Erases

More than 50 members of the Glendale art community and their supporters are calling for a boycott of the Pit.

(image courtesy the letter signatories)
(image courtesy the letter signatories)

This is an open letter to the Pit, a commercial artist-run gallery based in Glendale, California and opened in 2014. This letter — a response to the exhibition Vision Valley (originally titled “Vision Valley: The Glendale Biennial”) curated by the Pit and on view at the Brand Library Art Galleries — has been circulating for one day among cultural workers in Glendale and neighboring communities, and among their allies near and far. The issues surrounding the exhibition were recently addressed in an essay published by the Los Angeles Review of Books. (The letter will be updated as new signatories are added. You can view the original letter online.)

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An Open Letter to the Pit Gallery (Adam D. Miller and Devon Oder):
From the Immigrant and Armenian Diasporic Communities of Glendale, and Their Allies

We are writing to tell you about the city of Glendale, California where you opened in 2014.
We are writing to tell you about the immigrant communities whose erasure you are enacting.
We request an immediate response.

We are calling for a boycott of the Pit Gallery.

 We have asked you, whose culture has capital? Your silence declares that ours does not.

By dismissing our queries and blocking us on social media, you tell us that our outcry against our own invisibility does not warrant a response.

By refusing to address our concerns, you entrench the position that we are not legible as cultural producers, cultural stakeholders, or participants in our city’s cultural sphere.

We are writing to remind you that your exhibition, Vision Valley: The Glendale Biennial, is hosted at a publicly funded municipal venue in Glendale, the Brand Art Center. You describe the exhibition as “a celebration of artists working in a specific community.” We are writing to remind you that the show is staged in a 40 percent Armenian neighborhood, the largest diasporic population of Armenians in the US. Among its roster of 32 predominately white artists, zero are Armenian. While your exhibition includes no Armenian artists, it does include all three directors of the Pit, as well as its gallery associate.

We are writing to tell you that you launched your gallery amid a wave of economic violence in Glendale and across Los Angeles, resulting in the formation of the Glendale Tenants Union in 2017 and the coalitions Defend Boyle Heights and Chinatown Community for Equitable Development. The latter two have called for city-wide boycotts of or actions against gentrifying agents. We are writing to tell you that we are prepared to defend our communities from erasure and displacement.

We are writing to tell you that by excluding Glendale’s Armenian, Filipinx, Korean, and Latinx population in favor of a majority white roster, you are performing what Aruna D’Souza calls whitewalling and its racialized exclusions.

This is not our first attempt to inform you.

Community members voiced concerns about your exhibition. You declined to revise the curatorial framework or issue a public response. The City of Glendale asked that you change the title of the exhibition. You removed “Glendale Biennial” quietly from the exhibition materials without public acknowledgment or apology. You continue to use “#theglendalebiennial” on your social media, claiming an inalienable right to take ownership of this city. An Armenian cultural worker asked about your continued use of the title. You blocked her from your account. On May 27th, an essay was published in the Los Angeles Review of Books detailing your erasure of Glendale’s immigrant communities. You have not responded. The essay was widely circulated among your networks and appeared in various media outlets. You were tagged. Still, you have not responded.

In lieu of a reply, you posted an image to your Instagram account on June 1st:

This post was removed by the Pit on June 4, hours before the intended publication of this letter. (screenshot via Instagram)
This post was removed by the Pit on June 4, hours before the intended publication of this letter. (screenshot via Instagram)

It appears to feature the Japanese superhero “Ultraman” (invoked here as your avatar), who protects the earth from siege by a monstrous nonhuman menace—presumably, us. You have emblazoned the words “WE CAN’T BE STOPPED!” above the image in all caps, with the Pit logo below. The image articulates a symbolic threat against immigrant communities who would critique your actions. It drolly positions Glendale’s immigrant communities as nonhuman. You are planning to turn this image into a t-shirt that will be given away to gallery attendees.

If it is your belief that your neocolonialist civilizing mission “can’t be stopped,” and that your exhibition’s vision of whitewashed futurity in Glendale is an inexorable reality; we are writing to tell you that you are mistaken.

We are defined by a radical refusal to disappear.
We call for an immediate public response.
We call for a boycott of the Pit Gallery.

The following individuals and organizations in Glendale, and their allies near and far, call for a boycott of the Pit Gallery and urge the Pit to issue an immediate public response.

Mashinka Firunts Hakopian, Artist/Scholar, UCLA
Meldia Yesayan, Cultural Worker
Gilda Davidian, Independent Artist
Anahid Yahjian, Independent Filmmaker
Aram Saroyan, Poet/Artist
Jacob Halajian, Filmmaker
Nora Kayserian, Educator
Grey James, Independent Artist
Raffi Wartanian, Columbia University
Nancy Agabian, Author/Professor, New York University
Shahé Mankerian, Principal of St. Gregory Hovsepian School/Poet
Arminé Iknadossian, Artist/Poet
Johaina Crisostomo, UC Berkeley
Carina Karapetian Giorgi, Professor of Sociology
Suzy Halajian, Independent Curator
Ara Madzounian, Filmmaker/Photographer
Thea Farhadian, Independent Musician/Composer/Educator
Daniel Scott Snelson, Assistant Professor, UCLA
Virginia Arce, Independent Curator
Kamee Abrahamian, Independent Artist
Sona Tatoyan, Actor/Writer
Linda Ganjian, Independent Artist
Vahe Berberian, Artist/Writer
Kareem Estefan, Art Critic/Scholar
Katy Robinson, Mountain House
Stefani Greenwood, Designer
Audrey Chan, Independent Artist
Kristy Lovich, Culture-Domestic Worker, Mountain House
Hasmik Geghamyan, Educator/Lawyer
Carol Zou, Cultural Worker
Dawn Finley, Independent Scholar/Caregiver
Maryam Hosseinzadeh, Cultural Worker
Erich Wise, Artist
Fiona Yun-Jui Chang, Independent Artist
Eileen Ybarra, Librarian/Meditation Instructor
Joanne Nucho, Anthropologist/Filmmaker, Pomona College
Dina Dean, Independent Artist
Ani Zakarian, Independent Artist
Robert Nazar Arjoyan, Garuna Film Group
Dennis R. Greenwood, Educator
Anna Nersesyan, Independent Filmmaker
Michael Thurin, Independent Artist
Lousine Shamamian, Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society Board Member, Performer, and Filmmaker
Victoria Martin, Pasadena City College Photography Professor – Retired
Woody O’Toole, Independent artist/JJU Collective
Molly Tierney, Independent Artist /JJU Collective
Nicole Darling, Artist/Poet/Filmmaker/Writer/Critic
Jennifer Witte, Bookseller
Sarah Williams, Women’s Center for Creative Work
Iggy Cortez, Scholar
Ani Khodaverdian, Independent Entertainment Industry Attorney
Bogdan Bagdasarov, Independent Artist
lee williams boudakian, Independent Artist
Jake Harkey, Stylist
Ali Leeds, Independent Artist
Amitis Motevalli, Artist
Mahyar Nili, Artist, Psychotherapist
Armineh Hovanesian, Independent Photographer
Young-Tseng Wong, Independent Artist
Arshia Haq, Artist
Victoria Aleksanyan, Independent Filmmaker
Von Curtis, Artist/Poet/Filmmaker/Scholar
Johanna Cypis, Independent Artist
Jennifer Wilson, Assistant Professor
Anuradha Vikram, 18th Street Art Center
Alex Lewin, Independent Artist
Morgan Lariah, Filmmaker
Hayk Makhmuryan, Cultural Worker
Dahlia Elsayed, Artist/Associate Professor CUNY
Roksana Filipowska, Scholar, University of Pennsylvania
Kim Calder, UCLA Department of English
Suzana Poghosyan, Owner/ Honey Pump Gallery
Kelsey Halliday Johnson, Independent Artist/SPACE
Aram Jibilian, Artist/Social Worker
Jamie Patterson, Freelance Visual Researcher
Gwen Comings, Independent Artist
Rosy Kuftedjian, Artist
Shoghig Halajian, Curator
Taryn Haydostian, Independent Artist
Narineh Mirzaeian, Design Faculty A.UD UCLA
Amin Husain, MTL Collective
Christina Lehmejian-Karaszewski, None
Shaun Gannon, Independent Poet
Alan Serna, Feral Press
Carmina Escobar, Independent Artist
Nelly Sarkissian, Art Director
Lynn Hilloowala, Futurecollect
Mariam Arzuyan, Independent Artist
Tamar Salibian, MFA, Media Studies PhD Candidate, Claremont Graduate University
Ani Ishkhanian, Independent Artist
Seda Mimaroğlu, Independent Poet
Sevana Panosian, Poet/Teacher
Nathalie Halajian, Student
Nicole Burmeister, Artist/Student
Román Luján, Poet/Translator
Soyoung Shin, Independent Artist

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