The federally funded National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, DC, is in the process of de-installing a sculpture by two artists who called for its removal in protest of the United States government’s support of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. In a joint statement posted to Instagram on Friday, November 3, Nicholas Galanin and Merritt Johnson asked “with deep regret” that the museum withdraw their joint sculpture “Creation with her children” (2017) from the exhibition The Land Carries Our Ancestors, which opened September 22 and runs through January 15, 2024.
In their request, Galanin and Johnson cited the federal government’s support of Israel’s ongoing military assault on Gaza. As of today, November 6, Israeli forces have killed more than 10,000 people in the Gaza Strip since Israel began its bombardment of the enclave four weeks ago, according to the region’s Ministry of Health. In the West Bank, Israeli forces and settlers have reportedly killed more than 155 Palestinians. Israel’s attacks began on October 7 after Hamas militants reportedly killed more than 1,300 Israelis and kidnapped over 200 others.
“The work we do as artists does not end in the studio or with our artist statements, it extends into the world,” Galanin and Johnson said in their statement, further calling on the US to “demand an immediate ceasefire, cut military aid to Israel, and lift the siege on Gaza.”
A representative for the National Gallery of Art confirmed in an email to Hyperallergic that museum staff is in the process of removing the work. The museum did not provide further comment.
Curated by visual artist Jaune Quick-To-See Smith (French-Cree, Shoshone, and Salish), The Land Carries Our Ancestors gathered work by 50 Indigenous artists engaging in an assortment of practices across the US to explore Native autonomy and resistance to colonization as well as Indigenous relationships to the land.
Galanin and Johnson’s mixed-media sculpture “Creation with her Children” personifies “Creation” as a long-haired woman with a wooden face and gold arms, brandishing a carving knife in one hand and holding a clump of wood chips in the other. Underneath her skirt made of blue tarp, gold-flecked hands force open the jaws of indiscernible animals to expose bright, white fangs. The artists described the work as “a reflection on survival, resistance against colonization, [and] the importance of continuum and connection to Land.”
Galanin, who is Tlingit and Unangax̂, and his partner Johnson, who describes herself as “mixed descent,” have been active in the LandBack movement supporting Indigenous land rights. The recent action follows Galanin’s previous decision to join seven other artists in withdrawing from the 2019 Whitney Biennial in protest of museum board member Warren Kanders and his ties to defense weapons manufacturer Safariland, which was linked to violence at the Gaza border.
“If we understand Land Back as a global issue and a requirement for collective liberation, we must recognize Palestinian liberation as necessary,” Johnson told Hyperallergic.
“What is being done to the people of Palestine is also being done to the Land and every living thing it supports, so it’s important to understand collective liberation as inclusive of all life, of Land and Water as well,” Johnson added.