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Artist Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill, who currently has a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, has withdrawn from two activities at the museum in solidarity with the Strike MoMA protesters. Hill, a Métis artist and writer who lives and works in Canada, is the first MoMA artist to withdraw from programs at the museum since the weekly Strike MoMA protests began on April 9.
In a letter to MoMA today, June 9, the artist announced her decision to cancel her participation in an educational program called “Family Art Talk” that was scheduled for June 15. She has also canceled a planned submission to MoMA’s magazine.
“It does not feel right to participate in programming for families sponsored by an arms manufacturer profiting from the death of those children,” the artist wrote in her letter, citing the ties of trustee Paula Crown and her husband James Crown to General Dynamics, a weapons manufacturer that provided the Israeli army with the bombs it used against civilians in Gaza in May.
In an email to Hyperallergic, a spokesperson for MoMA confirmed receiving Hill’s letter, adding: “We respect the rights of all to make their voices heard, and have a long history of making space for many voices at MoMA.”
Hill’s exhibition is currently on view at the museum’s street-level galleries as part of MoMA’s Projects Series. The exhibition features sculptures and drawings made primarily from tobacco, a plant with Indigenous significance that was subjected to colonialist extraction.
“I realize I am in a contradictory position,” Hill’s letter continues. “I am currently exhibiting work at MoMA and so benefitting personally from the money brought in by the board. At the same time, I wish to align myself with those who struggle to abolish the prison industry, the carceral justice system, resource extraction which benefits the richest while costing the lives and the lands of Indigenous people and poor people across the world, the apartheid system of Israel, arms dealing, corruption and white supremacy.”
“But I also know I am not alone, that many people who work or have worked inside MoMA as artists or arts professionals also want an end to these things,” the artist added, “And there can be many ways for us to go on strike.”
Hill said she decided to respect her commitment to participate in a third program that will be co-hosted by MoMA and the American Indian Community House (AICH) in New York.
“As a Metis artist who is not from Lepapehoking, it is my responsibility to reach out to Indigenous New York, to ask what can be done,” she explained. “In entering a relationship with AICH, MoMA has made a long overdue commitment to begin to support Indigenous artists, Indigenous arts institutions and Indigenous curators, on their own terms.”
Read artist Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill’s letter, reproduced in full, below:
June 9, 2021
To Whom It May Concern:
I have decided to withdraw from two of the public educational programs I had previously committed to in conjunction with my current solo show at MoMA: a submission for Magazine, and a Family Art Talk, which had been scheduled for June 15th. This year, the activist group Strike MoMA, comprised of artists in New York and around the world, has revealed the financial ties of MoMA’s board to Jeffrey Epstein, Donald Trump, private prison companies Geo Group and CoreCivic, and the violent resource extraction of Barrick Gold. Most recently, we learned of the connections between MoMA’s board and the bombing of Gaza this May. Multiple board members have been implicated, including Paula Crown. The Crown family owns General Dynamics, a company that not only works closely with the Israeli Occupation Forces, but also manufactured the MK-84 bombs that were dropped on Gaza during the 11-day assault which claimed the lives of 250 Palestinians, including 66 children. As I have written in a previous email, it does not feel right to participate in programming for families sponsored by an arms manufacturer profiting from the death of those children.
The work I made to exhibit at MoMA Projects consists of sculptures and works on paper made largely from tobacco, a plant that has taught me a lot about capitalist colonial extraction but also about Indigenous economic systems, which survive and thrive despite all attempts to extinguish them. The sculptural forms reference rabbits, families, and mothering in order to acknowledge reproductive labor and other economies that spread out laterally, giving away and dispersing wealth rather than accumulating it. The works on paper, especially the “flags,” also contain many nods to spring, what’s coming up from the ground, and what’s “in the air.” For me, this particular body of work suggests the possibility of economic forms that offer an alternative to capitalism, by thinking through the ones we are already practicing. And while I know there is a long history of art institutions absorbing critical art to purify their own image, the intention of this work goes against the interests of the MoMA board members whose great wealth is derived from the death, dispossession and imprisonment of people and the land.
I realize I am in a contradictory position. I am currently exhibiting work at MoMA and so benefitting personally from the money brought in by the board. At the same time, I wish to align myself with those who struggle to abolish the prison industry, the carceral justice system, resource extraction which benefits the richest while costing the lives and the lands of Indigenous people and poor people across the world, the apartheid system of Israel, arms dealing, corruption and white supremacy. But I also know I am not alone, that many people who work or have worked inside MoMA as artists or arts professionals also want an end to these things. And there can be many ways for us to go on strike.
I am also in a contradictory position in that I am deciding to continue to participate in one program, one that will be cohosted by MoMA and the American Indian Community House (AICH). MoMA, which opened in 1929, was in operation for almost a century before they had a solo exhibition by a Native American artist: Edgar Heap of Birds’ Surviving Active Shooter Custer in 2019. The museum has not only failed to meaningfully engage with Indigenous artists and arts in the Americas, it has also neglected to develop relationships with the vibrant Indigenous arts communities living in Lenapehoking. AICH has been a hub of Indigenous community and Indigenous arts in New York since the 1960s and continues to offer programming despite the fact that they haven’t had a physical location since 2018. I can only imagine how devastating a blow to Indigenous arts and community wellbeing the loss of a space for AICH has been. We should all be asking ourselves, how is it acceptable that a space so fundamental to Indigenous arts in the city can be lost while one of the largest arts institutions, with billions of dollars of resources, continues to expand and accumulate more and more property? As a Metis artist who is not from Lepapehoking, it is my responsibility to reach out to Indigenous New York, to ask what can be done. In entering a relationship with AICH, MoMA has made a long overdue commitment to begin to support Indigenous artists, Indigenous arts institutions and Indigenous curators, on their own terms.
For everyone I know, this has been an incredibly isolating, alienating, and difficult past year and a half. It seems more important than ever to offer one another support, community, and collectivity, although at times it seems harder than ever to do so. I’m so thankful to the members of AICH, who have listened to me and offered sound advice and direction; for the support of those inside MoMA who stand with me as we strike, in many different ways, against a corrupt institution; and to Strike MoMA for the incredible amount of work they have put into demanding better from the art world and a better world for everyone.
Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill
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