At last night’s 2019 Whitney Biennial opening for museum members, two members of the Indigenous Womxn’s Collective staged an intervention in the galleries to voice their moral opposition to Whitney vice chair Warren Kanders. Kanders — the founder, chairman, and chief executive of the weapons company Safariland Group — has come under fire in recent months, with many activists calling for his removal from the museum board.
Playing antler whistles and a drum underneath the artworks of Jeffrey Gibson, Regan De Loggan and Maria Hupfield unfurled a banner wrapped around Hupfield’s body reading: “DEMILITARIZE OUR ART – PEOPLE OVER PROFIT.”
Safariland’s tear gas has been used globally in locations including Puerto Rico, Standing Rock, Ferguson, and at the US–Mexico border, which is currently the subject of Forensic Architecture’s biennial commission, “Triple-Chaser.” The video brings to light to use of weapons manufactured by companies Kanders helms worldwide and looks into the potential use of bullets made by Sierra Bullets in Gaza; Sierra Bullets was acquired in 2017 by the Clarus Corporation, of which Kanders is the executive chairman, for $79 million.
“We wanted to infiltrate that space of privilege,” Hupfield told Hyperallergic in a phone call, saying they wanted to “subvert the power dynamic” of the museum.
Hupfield says that major cultural institutions, including the Whitney, are “happy to show art and historical artifacts from Indigenous people,” but that violence against Indigenous bodies is “happening from members of their very board.”
After unfurling the banner, De Loggan and Hupfield read a statement on behalf of the Indigenous Womxn’s Collective. “We, as Indigenous womxn and femme nonbinary people, are making a stand against the continued violent oppression of brown bodies and communities,” they said. “By not removing Warren Kanders from his position on the museum board, the Whitney is in allyship with white supremacy and genocidal settler colonialism.”
“We are in opposition, as Native artists, curators, and community members, to the continued ‘profit over people’ mentality,” they continued. “Indigenous people and other people of color are violently under attack by Warren Kanders’ manufactured weapons of terrorism. You, the Whitney, is harboring a terrorist who profits from violence against brown bodies. You want our art, but not our people.”
Included in the statement, the collective’s demands for the Whitney Museum are:
Remove Warren Kanders from the board-Destroy white supremacy.
Hold those who cause harm against our communities accountable.
Be accomplices in true decolonial action.
Demilitarize art, people over profit
Referencing the Metropolitan Museum’s recent announcement of a new gift acceptance policy, Hupfield tells Hyperallergic, “We’re calling upon accountability.” Earlier this month, De Loggans and Hupfield organized “The Other Side of The Story: Accountability and Ethics Workshop” at the Bard Graduate Center to consider similar questions about gender, class, race, community, and methods of decolonization inside art museums.
The Indigenous Womxn’s Collective’s action last night was independent of, but in solidarity with, the recurring protests held at the Whitney every Friday as part of Nine Weeks of Art and Action, organized by Decolonize This Place, which will conclude at the Whitney Biennial public opening this Friday, May 17.
The Whitney Museum has declined to comment.