A MoMA member watching a protest by the group Strike MoMA at Manhattan's Urban Plaza on West 53rd Street (all photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

After 10 eventful weeks of protests against the Museum of Modern Art this spring, followed by a three-month summer hiatus, the Strike MoMA activists returned to the museum on Friday, September 10, to organize for the next phase of their campaign.

Attended by about 30 activists, many of whom were students, the meeting at Manhattan’s Urban Plaza on West 53rd Street, their regular spot in front of MoMA, was a series of workshops in preparation for a city-wide protest on September 17, to be held under the slogan “Globalize the Intifada.” The workshops covered subjects like struggles in Palestine and the Dominican Republic that are related to businesses owned by some MoMA trustees, and a beginner’s guide for direct actions. The meeting marked “phase 2” of the Strike MoMA campaign, which advocates for ending the museum’s dependence on billionaire donors with questionable businesses and calls for a new museum model, or a “post-MoMA future,” that centers the needs of everyday people and marginalized communities.

The meeting marked the beginning of “phase 2” of the Strike MoMA campaign

Compared to the fierce weekly protests between April and June, which peaked in clashes with NYPD officers and MoMA’s security staff, the meeting on Friday was a calm gathering of friends and allies who were happy to reconnect and gear up for action.

The protesters decorated the plaza with banners against MoMA, settler colonialism, and “modernity,” including one banner that showed pictures of the six Palestinian prisoners who escaped from a maximum-security Israeli prison earlier in September. The organizers also handed out pamphlets and zines, including a “Decolonial Operations Manual” surveying previous protests by Decolonize This Place and other groups against institutions like the Brooklyn Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Whitney Museum.

A Strike MoMA organizer demonstrating the use of fake blood
The organizers also handed out pamphlets and zines, including a “Decolonial Operations Manual.”

Juber Bassal, a Palestinian tourist from the city of Acre in northern Israel, chanced upon the protest after visiting MoMA for the first time.

“I saw the Palestinian flags, so I came to listen,” he told Hyperallergic, referring to two banners that the protesters had posted at the plaza.

After listening to a workshop by the Palestinian-American youth organization Within Our Life, Bassal confessed: “I was not aware of MoMA’s early support of the Zionist movement.”

Moved by the unexpected show of solidarity with his people, the 33-year-old marketing manager suggested a political tourist guide for Palestinians visiting New York, mapping tourist attractions led by persons who might be implicit in their oppression.

“I don’t regret visiting MoMA, but I would’ve planned my trips differently had I known these facts,” he said.

Members of Within Our Lifetime conducting a workshop about Palestine

Sandy Placido and Manny Roa, two Bronx-based activists, conducted a workshop about Barrick Gold, a company that operates gold mines in the Dominican Republic. The company is accused of widespread pollution, displacement of communities, and human rights abuses. Gustavo Cisneros, the husband of MoMA trustee Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, sits on Barrick’s board of directors, making the museum a target for the protesters.

“[MoMA] talks about abstract art while ignoring the reality of dead humans, animals, plants, and crops,” Placido said after describing gut-wrenching images of tens of dead cows in Naranjo, Cotuí, that died last week after drinking contaminated river water. Local farmers accused Barrick of polluting the water source and causing the death of the livestock, and laid the carcasses in front of the company’s offices.

Sandy Placido speaking about toxic gold mining in the Dominican Republic

Watching Placido’s speech was Elizabeth, a retired elementary school teacher and long-time MoMA member who happened upon the protest after a visit to the museum.

“I agree with them,” the former teacher told Hyperallergic about the protesters, saying that she was moved by Placido’s words.

“Was is your goal?” she later asked the two activists.

“Our goal is to stop the gold mining and MoMA’s artwashing of it,” Placido answered.

Elizabeth, a retired school teacher, speaking with activists Sandy Placido and Manny Roa

“What can I do to help as a member?” Elizabeth proceeded. Roa advised her to “divest from MoMA” any way she can.

The activists will return to MoMA next Friday as one of several stops of the “Globalize the Intifada” tour. At this stage, it’s not clear if the organizers plan to resume their weekly protests outside of the museum. MoMA has not responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

“Even if we don’t know what the post-MoMA future is, the mere idea of these three words printed large in front of MoMA is important,” said Ash Moniz, an artist who attended the protest. “It creates an imaginative vacuum where we can think what a post-MoMA future can be.”

Urban Plaza in Upper Manhattan decorated with Strike MoMA’s banners

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Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...