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What do Palestine, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Colombia have in common? According to a coalition of artist-activists who staged their seventh weekly protest today, May 21, at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the citizens of these countries have all been impacted by the predatory businesses practices of some MoMA board members.
The “Strike MoMA” protest, held in solidarity with Palestinian civilians and other oppressed people around the world, drew a large crowd of about 300 demonstrators, who peacefully occupied the museum’s entrance for about an hour. Unlike last week’s heated action, which culminated in the police arrest of one protester and the banning of five others from the museum, today’s gathering concluded without any confrontations. MoMA’s security staff, backed by about a dozen New York Police Department (NYPD) officers, stood back as activists carried out a series of teach-ins at the museum’s main entrance, effectively blockading the area.
“MoMA learned their lesson that beating us gives them worse PR,” Andreas Petrossiants, a writer and editor who has regularly attended Strike MoMA demonstrations, told Hyperallergic. “But it’s strange they haven’t already learned this after decades of being violent, both in funding and in reactions to artist protests.”
Activists have gathered at the museum weekly since April to advocate for a “post-MoMA future,” calling for a radical restructuring of the museum to prioritize New York’s diverse communities over the interests of billionaire board members. The events are organized by members of the International Imagination of Anti-National Anti-Imperialist Feelings (IIAAF), a coalition of artist groups and grassroots organizations.
Earlier today, the IIAAF published an open letter highlighting the various connections of several MoMA trustees to Israeli violence against Palestinians. The missive was signed by over 250 scholars, artists, and critics including Angela Y. Davis, Fred Moten, Gayatri Spivak, Michael Rakowitz, and Laura Poitras. “With figures like [Ronald] Lauder, [Paula] Crown, and [Steven] Tananbaum on its board, MoMA cannot pretend to stand apart from the attack on Gaza or the Occupation of the West Bank and Jerusalem more broadly,” the letter says.
At today’s teach-ins in front of the museum, speakers from Palestine, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico expounded on the role of the aforementioned trustees, along with Daniel S. Och and Leon Black, in the suffering caused to their communities. For example, Tananbaum, who is CEO of the hedge fund GoldenTree, and Och, CEO of Och-Ziff Capital, were both accused of profiteering from Puerto Rico’s crippling debt crisis.
There was also dancing, drumming, and chanting of slogans like “From the Penthouse to the Ground, Burn this Fucking Empire Now.”
“The intention here is not to do civil disobedience and get arrested,” one of the organizers clarified to the attendants before leading them from Urban Plaza to MoMA across the street.
The protesters carried Robert Indiana-inspired “LOVE Gaza” screen-printed posters in the colors of the Palestinian flag, created by the artist Kyle Goen. They also brandished banners that paired certain MoMA trustees with countries they’ve allegedly harmed.
“Despite the propaganda that Glenn Lowry spews to his staff, the post-MoMA future meant that we get to decide what a public space looks like,” said artist-activist Shellyne Rodriguez at the museum’s entrance. Rodriguez was referring to the MoMA’s director, who previously accused the protesters, without providing evidence, of committing violence against the museum’s security staff during a protest on April 30.
“We have no quarrel with the staff here,” Rodriguez continued. “Our quarrel is with Glenn Lowry, the board of trustees, and their minions.”
Another IIAF speaker later criticized Lowry for “not once stepping down to talk to anyone” at any of the group’s seven protests thus far.
Around 6pm, the demonstrators folded their banners and returned to Urban Plaza to enjoy music and refreshments. Among them was Sam Hafetz, a 19-year-old student born and raised in New York City. “The promise of MoMA was a contemporary space that supports activism,” the student told Hyperallergic. “To see it backing colonialism abroad is disheartening and terrifying. It makes you realize that museums are colonial spaces.”
MoMA has not responded to Hyperallergic’s immediate request for comment.