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Alina Popa // Disease As an Aesthetic Project

February 10, 2019

Alina Popa (right) speaking at the ArtLeaks Assembly in Belgrade, 2012

We are deeply saddened because our dear colleague Alina Popa, an artist from Romania who moved between choreography, theory, and contemporary art, and was a co-founder of ArtLeaks, passed away on February 1. In her memory, we are re-publishing her last text and drawings. 


Spirula and the Thing

When something intimately changes your body, your possibilities to move, your dynamic with the outer world, your identity for many people, your limits as to what you can bear, that thing forces you into inner transformation. I hate the thing, I love the thing. The thing forces me over my edges, I cannot squeeze it out of me, I cannot directly influence it, I can only take it as a challenge to my rational mind, to what I have been, to my own limitations. It has grown more than I have ever thought it could. It became big and ugly and part of me. I have to live and love myself with my monster. It is a visual enormity. I am to myself a visual enormity. I prefer to close my eyes.

This is not anymore a social game, it’s within me. It forces me to be real, to be like an unwanted Star Trek character. To walk like an animal. To walk slowly, like an animal. To transform my showers into psychological thresholds. To be deformed, asymmetrical, slow and clumsy, to eat in bed. To stay in bed. To not move, to stay only on one side, in bed, to struggle to turn. It pulls me to the ground, my leg heavy with it in it. My left leg doubled, tripled and more. I am a monster. I am a visual enormity. I breathe, I live, and I sometimes go through space.

It often feels that the struggle is not with a disease but between the huge thing on my left thigh and my mind. It plays with the limits of what I can bear myself to be. What have I become? How did I transform? It keeps me from moving freely. It numbs my hopes, it freezes my imagination. I can just be freer inside to allow myself to dare the impossible. Every time I am embodying a virtual walk through a forest I am calling the impossible. To toy with the possible so that without you noticing you are doing the impossible. It makes me find ways to keep myself from judging myself the moment I step over the border. I need to distract myself exactly the moment I step into the fantastical. If I succeed the fantastical is normal and real. And I can maybe walk a little bit faster.

I cry, I shout, I refuse to live in fear. I collapse with fever, fear has overtaken me, the thing laughs at my weakness. I am still here. I wake up in the night, I get up and sit on the side of the bed. It’s hard to sit. I am too asymmetrical. I despair. I refuse to live in fear. I want the thing to disappear, to stop harassing me. I have no break from it. I have no break from me. Who am I? I dreamed I was wearing the nicest, most pleasant and comfortable outfit and when I looked into the mirror, a monster head showed itself under my beautiful hoodie. I prayed to be delivered from this deformity but while praying my face kept changing, monstrous. Form didn’t want to settle on my face. I was surface, without stability. It’s past midnight. I want to put an end to my nightmare. I refuse to live in fear. I refuse to be obsessed with the thing in my leg. I want to get it over with myself. Terminate. I don’t know how. I only have natural supplements on my table. I despair. In one moment I realize I may not be able to escape, but I choose to live without fear, under any circumstances. My dear thing, I am looking at you from above.

I don’t know if you learn more by exploring the outside but I am confined to the inside. I re-make the world in my bed. I draw what I see, what I am more tempted to look at, my leg. The world is my leg. The world is sheer deformity. It grows scarier than I thought it could. Looking into this world, with which I identify, I am appalled. I fear. And I keep looking, it’s my world. I start to explore it. I am representing it, drawing my fear, my obsession, my world. I am drawing the bandages on the holes on the thing on my leg. For every point I make a cell dies. I become obsessive about points. The tumor replies with needles. It wants more, more attention. You cannot make me fear, not now, you are my world. The needles I feel are like rain, every drop brings a sensation. I like this rain, it’s warm. This is a good day.

It’s like a moon of a distant planet. It has craters and a surface between skin and stone, a stone on a windy shore changing shape in a circular manner. It spurts thoughts, it spits ideas, it exhausts me. It tells me to be wild. Find snow, undress, throw yourself, put the thing in snow, breath, enjoy, this is better than a hospital bed. There is no snow but I remember the shiny white surface where you can look and look, lose your mind to beauty. You have to do what it says, otherwise, it grows bigger and soon you will be only its satellite. I want to gravitate around it, what if it is really alien, planet, biology, me, you, carbon compounds or none. Doctor, I would like you to perform a planectomy on my leg. I promise I am a satellite. I will revolve. We will shape the space.

Spirula and Medicine

They tell me to go home and wait for my end. I fear going back home, jumping into the image they created for me. I am on the bed barely breathing. I deform it, the image, it’s the struggle between realities, they want to impose theirs because otherwise, their ground becomes cracked. It’s easier to sacrifice a human than to shift a bit your paradigm. We know, human doctors think they know, they go to bed assured that I am a piece of meat. They made a script, imposed it on people like me, we have proof, we know better. Reality follows the script if it is believed and they spent centuries to impose it on us. My reality just performed a triangle choke on theirs. I am home, at Sana’s, on the bed, red cheeks and all, playing with my cats. I am alive.

I have a secret. Whatever horrible thought comes to me, from the planet within, or who knows from where I embrace it. Come little dark thought, expand, I want to know why you are here. I will manipulate you and you will manipulate me and in the end, you will be no more. Many thoughts or states sublimated within me during these months.

When I am agitated during the night, I am pretending this uncontrollable state is my will. I perform my states, I get out of bed and I let the restlessness take over. I am punching the air, I am raging like a wild animal.

Realization: I have never trusted my body and its responses. We are taught so by education. Fever needs to be kept at bay, symptoms have to be read by specialists, you don’t own your body, it is like a foreign coat you have to take care of and beware of it, look for signs, gather evidence. You are outside of your body, you analyze it scientifically but what does this mean. It means that you are placing it in the scripts written by strangers who are afraid of the wonder of reality and want to restrict its vastness to a few predictable scenarios.

The body is real but what we think about it is fiction. Medical views are the fiction imposed on us by modernity and capitalism. This is a consensus fiction. How you regard the body, how you name, determines how you act upon it and also how it acts back. We are free, and the body actually calls for individual fictions, or for fictions that give it trust and freedom. Perspective creates reality. To change the standard perspective is almost impossible. It cannot be done mentally, it needs different practices – to practice ways to interact with the world that give back reality its multiplicity. We actually don’t truly interact with the world anymore. That is because we know too well the practices that are possible, and so they will give back the same outcomes. The body is as alien as the world. And we have to embrace its strangeness. Especially when we need reality to be crazy when we are ill with no chance at survival from the standard perspective. I don’t want my reality normal. I need it off the hook.

Spirula and its Symptoms

What is a symptom?

Healing is a poem written with the language of symptoms.

Sometimes the symptoms require amplification, spatially, inside or outside the body, ignoring, fighting, acceptance by subjective study, transformation by imagination – metaphorization, deepening of their perception until they become something else, so abstract that they lose any conventional signification, and there are many other possible operations that one can perform upon symptoms. They can be danced, drawn, etc., or even just imagined in a physically passive way. There is also a rhythm of these operations upon the symptoms that is very individual for every person and even every period in someone’s life. Healing is both the operation and the rhythm of the change of these operations. The rhythm is energy, life, it is what cannot yet be understood, that is why there cannot be any previous schedule, meaning or explanation. The poem.

The body calls for a different language. You have to enter the unknown. It cries out loud through symptoms that it needs to become poetry not theory. This is a sign of intelligence of the soul.

Sensations – we feel them in one place but we can move them, expand them, shrink them, keep them in movement project them outside the body make them circulate part of a bigger language. This elasticity of sensations, discomfort or pain sets the poetry in motion – it messes up with the consensus language of the body.
I hate that the doctors nullify my poem with their order words.

Healing is an alchemical process.

Moving, reinterpreting, re-symbolizing.

The body is abstract. It occupies more space than where it finds itself. That is why it can transform its anatomy into the jungle.

I grew a jungle on my body to handle my symptoms. I am delegating the care for my body to an imaginary world.

I have a volcano in my leg, a raging wild animal rising from the void in my lung, a rainforest amplifying my short breath, a wolf in my consciousness, a wild pig scuffing out the root node in my chest, a sloth calming the restlessness of my heart, a jaguar spirit coming to get me, to make me a free spirit, and I am flying over reality, jungled up, towards life or maybe towards death.

Spirula and Experience

The first who claims to be actually able to simulate crossing of edges is the mind. Ideas tell you that you have done it or are about, if you just dare to circle a bit more in the loop of thinking. Just that the spiral never ends and one day you find yourself burned out in bed, being called by the body to the reality of the ideas you perhaps liked to fancy. I mean the alien, the radically unknown, the limits of experience, the performance as life, life as art… The mind already replies aggressively that maybe you are in a loop with this as well but I reply that now my actions can take me from death back into life, that the edge is now fully lived.

If you are lucky to have escaped a disease conventionally you can go back to the radicality of thought as if nothing happened. Some may experience a new surge of life. Almost everyone wants to change, especially if the threat is big enough. When my existence has been put at risk thought felt deeply humiliated, it stopped. For days I have been just feeling that I exist and that is my protection like a lucid breath inhaled and exhaled by heart.

The diagnosis triggered two opposite forces: great fear and great courage – one that would overcome the greatness of the fear. In the great fear is a constellation of white coat talk, alarmed best friends, and all Western conventionality regarding to how you treat something for which medicine has no promise. Already in doing the list a friend shouts in my head that I was jumping to conclusions that there was no promise. I shout back, shut up because I’ve been through the vicious circle of guilt too many times. And I know it’s not a real friend, it’s not even the friend, it’s me performing my own enemy as my well-meaning friend. I like enemies if they are like the Amazonian figures of enemies – the aliens whose perspectives I can eat to become what I could never alone become. In the great courage are my dreams, my energy, a deep inner feeling of abandoning myself to the unknown, my lover, my cats, my new friends and therapists in Vienna and Portland, Brazilian shamans, other crazy sick people, aunt Sana, the smell of the forest, the speed of skiing, all my enhanced experiences of nature, a butterfly on my hand for more than one hour, deers, jungle sounds, the feeling of the ocean, warmth in general, and I cannot but artificially close the enumeration.

Drawings, with eyes closed, notebook on the chest:

Open letter of the art milieu of Poland concerning launching a competition for the post of director of the Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Contemporary Art in Krakow and future retaining of the institution within structures of Municipal Galleries

February 3, 2019


Dear Mr. Minister,

As an art milieu taking an active part in the workings of the Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Contemporary Art in Krakow, we feel compelled to communicate our concern regarding plans for the restructuring of the above-mentioned institution.

On the 21st of January 2019, the Mayor of the City of Krakow, Prof. Jacek Majchrowski, requested your consent to derogate from the obligation to organise a competition for the post of director of the Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Contemporary Art. The Mayor also informed the general public about his plans for merging the Bunkier Sztuki Gallery and the MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow. The first step in this process would be, according to the Mayor’s proposal, appointing the recent director of the MOCAK a director of both institutions.

We are equally alarmed by the Mayor’s plans to entrust the management of the Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Contemporary Art to a person arbitrarily appointed by him (who would remain a director of another institution at the same time) as by merging the two institutions. The functions of the Bunkier Sztuki Gallery and the MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art are distinct in character. So are the roles they play in the cultural and artistic life of the city of Krakow. A museum is an institution established, primarily, for collecting works of art, conservation, and preservation of cultural heritage for future generations. A municipal gallery, on the other hand, is an agora and a venue where contemporary artists present their work. It is a meeting place for art-makers and audiences as well as the place where emerging artists learn how to exhibit their works in cooperation with curators. It is also a site of artistic experimentation.

The history and tradition of the Bunkier Sztuki Gallery go back to 1965 when the Municipal Exhibition Pavilion [Miejski Pawilon Wystawowy] was established. Promoting avant-garde approaches throughout several decades of its operation, the gallery has gained a significant position on the art map of Poland and Europe. In practice, incorporating the gallery into museum structures means a dissolution of the institution with a detrimental impact on the local, regional and national contemporary art scene. An absence of a municipal gallery on the map of Krakow would inflict damage not only on current residents of the city but also on the future growth of Polish art. The Bunkier Sztuki is the place where numerous contemporary Polish artists began their careers in the arts, which they successfully continue in Poland and abroad.

We call for maintaining the sovereign status of the Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Contemporary Art in Krakow by organising a new competition for the post of its director. The process of selecting a candidate ought to be transparent and openly available to the public. The Competition Committee shall be set up comprising representatives of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the Municipality of Krakow as well as experts active in the field of contemporary culture representing the Civic Forum for Contemporary Art [Obywatelskie Forum Sztuki Współczesnej] and the International Association of Art Critics. The Committee should also include representatives of the Bunkier Sztuki employee team, who in recent years has been an actual creator of the program of the Gallery, and who, to our deepest concern, has learnt about the plans of restructuring of their own workplace – just as every other member of the public – from the press and social media.

We hope that you will consider our positions in your decisions.

Most respectfully,

Iwona Demko

Monika Drożyńska


Sign the petition here.



Szanowny Panie Ministrze,

jako środowisko artystyczne uczestniczące czynnie w funkcjonowaniu Bunkra Sztuki w Krakowie pragniemy przekazać nasze zaniepokojenie planami restrukturyzacji wspomnianej instytucji.

Pan Prezydent Miasta Krakowa prof. Jacek Majchrowski zwrócił się do Pana Ministra (w dniu 21 stycznia 2019 r.) z wnioskiem o zgodę na odstąpienie od obowiązku organizowania konkursu na stanowisko dyrektora Bunkra Sztuki. Pan Prezydent prof. Jacek Majchrowski poinformował również opinię publiczną o planach połączenia dwóch odrębnych instytucji: Galerii Bunkier Sztuki oraz Muzeum Sztuki Współczesnej MOCAK.

Zdajemy sobie sprawę z trudności organizacyjnych narosłych wokół Bunkra Sztuki. Związane są one przede wszystkim z odwołaniem dotychczasowej dyrektorki Magdaleny Ziółkowskiej z pełnionej funkcji przed czasem zakończenia kadencji (maj 2018 r.). Wiemy, że wynik ogłoszonego potem konkursu okazał się negatywny i pomimo przedstawienia trzech kandydatur, żadna ze zgłoszonych osób nie otrzymała pozytywnej rekomendacji. Wiemy także o złym technicznym stanie budynku i potrzebie jego modernizacji. Pomimo powyższych przesłanek jesteśmy przekonani, że powołanie nowego dyrektora nie powinno odbyć się poprzez arbitralne wskazanie konkretnej osoby, ale powinno zostać rozstrzygnięte w drodze oficjalnie ogłoszonego konkursu.

Niepokoją nas również plany związane z połączeniem Bunkra Sztuki z Muzeum Sztuki Współczesnej MOCAK. Role, które pełnią obie instytucje mają odrębny charakter. Muzeum jest instytucją powołaną przede wszystkim do opieki nad dziełami sztuki, ich konserwacją i zachowaniem spuścizny kulturalnej dla kolejnych pokoleń. Galeria miejska jest zaś rodzajem agory oraz miejscem gdzie wystawiają swoje prace współcześni artyści. Jest miejscem spotkań twórców z publicznością, ale także miejscem, gdzie początkujący artyści i artystki uczą się jak prezentować swoją twórczość we współpracy z kuratorami i kuratorkami. Jest także miejscem eksperymentów artystycznych.

Historia Galerii Bunkier Sztuki rozpoczyna się w 1965 r. otwarciem Miejskiego Pawilonu Wystawowego. Promując awangardowe postawy artystyczne w ciągu kilku dekad swojego istnienia, galeria zyskała znaczenie na artystycznej mapie Europy. Włączenie jej w struktury muzeum oznacza w praktyce likwidację omawianej instytucji, która niekorzystnie odbije się na lokalnej, regionalnej i ogólnopolskiej scenie sztuki współczesnej. Brak galerii miejskiej na mapie Krakowa okaże się stratą nie tylko dla współczesnych mieszkańców miasta, ale także dla rozwoju polskiej sztuki. To w Bunkrze Sztuki wielu uznanych współczesnych artystów i artystek zaczynało swoje artystyczne kariery, które kontynuują w Polsce i na świecie.

Zwracamy się z prośbą przeprowadzenia ponownego konkursu na stanowisko dyrektora Bunkra Sztuki w Krakowie. Proces wyłonienia nowej osoby powinien być klarowny i dostępny dla opinii publicznej. W skład Komisji Konkursowej powinni wchodzić przedstawiciele Ministerstwa Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego, Gminy Miejskiej Kraków oraz ekspertów czynnie działających w obszarze współczesnej kultury – przedstawiciel lub przedstawicielka Obywatelskiego Forum Sztuki Współczesnej oraz Międzynarodowego Stowarzyszenia Krytyków Sztuki AICA. W komisji powinni znaleźć się również przedstawiciele zespołu Bunkra Sztuki, którzy o planach restrukturyzacji ich własnego miejsca pracy dowiedzieli się – tak jak wszyscy inni – z prasy i mediów społecznościowych.

Mamy nadzieję, że Pan Minister uwzględni w swoich decyzjach nasze stanowisko.

Z wyrazami szacunku,

Iwona Demko

Monika Drożyńska

Organized art workers as an obstacle for capitalist culture / ArtLeaks interviewed in IG Kultur

January 20, 2019

Großmutters Wohnzimmer, Odonien/Köln © Christiane Rath

Lidija K. Radojević

Organized art workers as an obstacle for capitalist culture

An interview with Corina L. Apostol & Vladan Jeremić

The rise of cultural and creative industries (CCIs) has drawn attention to traditionally marginalized and disorganized forms of work. While jobs such as writer, artist or musician were once considered ‘bohemian’ or irregular, they have become widely accepted, conventional career paths. Nevertheless, labour such as ‘creative’ production, ‘cultural’ work or ‘artistic’ creation cannot be facilitated by mass production processes without losing a significant part of their product-value. The growing contribution of CCIs to national economies and the sector’s potential for creating new jobs have led to a situation, in which working conditions are no longer questioned. Instead, governments and other policymakers automatically assume cultural work to be an intrinsically progressive type of labour. With production processes being further fragmented and individualized, collectively organized resistance against systematic injustice has become a rare occasion in a field that emphasizes the virtues of self-reliance, unique talent and personalized work. ArtLeaks, a transnational platform dealing with the abuse of labour rights in the fields of culture and arts, exposes production conditions and applies pressure on art institutions and cultural policy makers. I was talking to two co-founders of the platform, Corina L. Apostol, Ph.D., art historian and curator from New York, and Vladan Jeremić, an artist from Belgrade, about inequalities in the art world and possible strategies against this development.

1) You are known for leaking cases in which labour rights were abused in the art world. Could you tell me about the beginnings of your activities?

These cases have been very important for the political focus of ArtLeaks. In 2010, we published our first campaign targeting the Bucharest Biennale. The organizers of the event refused to respect even the most basic labour rights, resulting in a situation in which the participating artists were exploited and censored. Our practice emerged organically from our wish to fight back humiliation and ill-treatment of art workers in Romania. Later, a core group of voluntary activists decided to continue the work by exposing further cases of malpractice in the field globally. This allowed us to direct our focus on the oppressive system being imposed on art workers. With several workers agreeing to publicize their cases, we were able to celebrate small victories over such power structures. The support of Prof. Suzana Milevska and her right to continue to teach at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna was certainly one of the most important, yet complicated cases in the history of ArtLeaks.

2) Could you describe the initial political agenda of ArtLeaks?

From the beginning, we have been raising several questions: What does it mean to reclaim the space of cultural production, both in physical reality as well as digitally? What are the long-term consequences of disrupting the ‘business as usual’ modes of action houses and large galleries? What could be the result of taking over corrupt state institutions? What forms of art education could be established that goes beyond the scope of private academia? Would such a space allow the creation of social alternatives, support the emergence of new ways of thinking and contribute to the formation of resistant political subjectivities?

Cultural workers elaborate on strategies that allow us to transform culture and society. However, after the decline of the Occupy Movement, activists were confronted with the problem of ephemerality. From our point of view, it seems necessary to connect the art workers’ protests of the past years with each other and to highlight alternatives engendered by these movements. On the basis of post-Marxist theory, ArtLeaks takes a clear stance in the contemporary conflict about labour and capital. We understand that the art sector is a part of the wider economic processes in globalized capitalism.

3) Which strategies and tools have you developed to implement your political agenda?

In the past decade, it has become clear that art workers are seeking social transformation. There are different ways how such a change could be achieved. ArtLeaks intends to highlight the wide range of these ideas. Apart from various calls – from the boycott of certain institutions and events to the formation of new art worlds – we have created publications, workshops, and learning-exhibitions dealing with the topic. We need to renew our understanding of past endeavors in order to create experiences that are capable of raising our consciousness as well as to provide models for an effective organization of art workers.

4) Could you please define your political stance? Do you see any historical references in your own work?

Ever since the nineteenth century, art worker coalitions, syndicates, and communes have placed the political dimension of art production under scrutiny. These often self-organized groups, which have developed against the backdrop of social movements around the world, invented various forms of protest and public intervention. Their main purpose was to defend artists’ rights and to reclaim cultural institutions which are embedded in a profound structure of power and capital. These initiatives sought to establish the historically reoccurring notion of ‘art workers’ in order to shift the labor-relations within the production and distribution of art and culture. Historically, we draw our inspiration from artists and initiatives such as Gustave Courbet and the Paris Commune, Gustav Metzger’s “Art Strike”, Lee Lozano’s “General Strike Piece”, the relentless activities of the Art Worker’s Coalition towards a democratization of museums and, more recently, the Obywatelskie Forum Sztuki Współczesnej (Civic Forum for Contemporary Art, OFSW) in Poland and their art strike strategies. Similarly, ArtLeaks aims to influence public discussion on cultural matters, with a focus on the symbolic, political and socio-economic role of cultural producers.

5) How would you contextualise the practical and political work of ArtLeaks?

The political articulation of ArtLeaks is closely related to the anti-austerity movement in the wake of the global financial crisis after 2008. As a result, we have witnessed an increasing politicization of students and art workers worldwide, leading to the emergence of initiatives such as Precarious Workers Brigade, Haben und Brauchen, W.A.G.E. and, not least, ArtLeaks. Initially, we did not regard it necessary to strive for alliances with established unions. Instead, we thought of ArtLeaks as tactical media intervention rather than being an organization restricted to one specific political sector. Unfortunately, the resources of ArtLeaks are rather limited. Moreover, the people involved in the project live in different cities. For these reasons, ArtLeaks has always been an online project on the basis of trust and quick reactions. We did have several physical meetings in order to discuss our basic principles and to decide on modes of collaboration. While our initial gatherings took place in Berlin, Belgrade, and Moscow, we later started to develop our own practice in the course of presentations at exhibitions, conferences, and workshops.

6) Whom does your work address?

According to the logic of creative industries, production is extracted from various entrepreneurs who are isolated from each other – with the artist being one of those. Hence, it is neither sufficient to question the status of cultural workers, nor to criticize state regulations on public funding, education or taxation. Instead, it is important to consider privileges, as well as challenges practitioners, may be facing as a direct consequence of institutionalized market ideology.

In defining a cultural worker, ArtLeaks rejects a sharp division according to the institutional position, legal status or cultural sector. In our view, anybody who is related to the production, distribution, and communication of an art product can be considered as an ‘art worker’. Drawing on Marx’ definition, art workers are subject to categories of class and the relationship between those classes. Thereby, it becomes clear that the analysis of class structure (its relation to the means of production) and the productive process of subjectivization (in the course of class struggle) involves objective and subjective factors. As a result, art workers can be defined as those who struggle against hegemonic positions, who denounce instances of abuse in the realm of cultural labour, who confront repression by dishonest management, who refuse to accept the normality of precarious conditions and who resist the appropriation of politically engaged art, culture and theory by institutions that are embedded in a tight mesh of capital and power.

In 2015, we organized the ‘Trondheim Seminar’ in Norway. In the course, participants tackled problems such as the organization of art labour, the definition of precarity and the separation of art and labour. However, the question remained of how to break up the social division of labour, serving as the basis for the separation of art and labour as distinct categories. Moreover, the participants agreed on the importance of supporting artists to get involved in a joint struggle.

7) Due to its transnational nature, ArtLeaks reflects on labour relations in economical core regions as well as in a sub-ordinated periphery. Could you please describe your perspective on the discrepancy between core and periphery in terms of structures of power and dominance in the field of cultural production?

In fact, the transnational practice of ArtLeaks already reveals a significant imbalance in the relationship between the center and the periphery. It is important, however, to keep in mind that the term ‘periphery’ cannot simply be associated with nation states or regions; the center/periphery-relations are not fixed on certain territories, but should rather be understood as a process being subject to constant change. We must be aware that these changes can happen very slowly so that we might get the impression that the center and periphery are related to certain territories. We could, for example, describe Russia or the Balkans as peripheric, while certain spaces in Moscow or Bucharest are clearly in a core position. Accordingly, the situation for art workers in New York under the Trump-government or in Berlin with its strong gentrification processes might be more precarious than in places that would traditionally be considered peripheral. It is important to note that ArtLeaks addresses a broad range of labour rights in the cultural field instead of supporting only one isolated group of art workers.

In relation to the periphery, the center fulfills several functions: it fosters the hegemonic discourses of modernisation and cultural development, colonizes so-called “small cultures” and attracts skilled labour which is thereby absorbed by the core economy. The advancing integration of global financial markets and the culture of social media have further accelerated the colonisation of the periphery. Even though our interventions concentrate primarily on the internet space and on new media, ArtLeaks goes beyond a temporary, tactical media practice. Instead, we consider ArtLeaks as a strategic tool to expose labour conditions in order to raise the pressure in favor of the periphery, the precarity, and oppressed labour.

8) How do you define the role of ArtLeaks in the formation of a broad alliance supporting the struggle of workers?

ArtLeaks appreciates the international character of the growing movement for labour rights. New forms of resistance make it necessary to rethink art production, to develop creative strategies for organizing institutions and, more generally, to establish a new kind of politics. Thereby, ArtLeaks claims a virtual space that allows art workers to translate their aspirations into a renewed cycle of struggles. In some of our most recent publications, we have attempted to actively coordinate different struggles by sketching out how an international union of art workers might be structured.

At the moment, the most prevailing problem seems to be the local isolation of quite similar struggles, which all too often renders the activists’ efforts ineffective. ArtLeaks intends to raise awareness of own activities and to support the work of similar groups such as W.A.G.E., Precarious Workers’ Brigade and Wages For Wages Against. Through a web of online channels and public space activities, ArtLeaks will continue to promote a larger, international body of resistance and solidarity for the labour rights of art workers.

This interview appeared in German in IG Kultur 1/18 “Prekär Leben.” The ful issue is available for download here.


Oily body prints on the Concertgebouw demand end of Shell sponsorship (The Netherlands)

January 20, 2019

The writing is on the wall for the Concertgebouw and Shell: Fossil Free Culture NL calls for a Fossil Free Museumplein.

Amsterdam, January 20, 2019– Following their successful campaign to get the Van Gogh Museum to end its 18-year sponsorship deal with oil and gas company Shell last year, today artists from Fossil Free Culture NL staged their first performance of 2019 to launch their new project demanding a Fossil Free Museumplein, Amsterdam. The group printed oil-drenched human bodies onto the glass façade of the Concertgebouw, exposing the true nature of the inappropriate relationship between the cultural institution and Royal Dutch Shell. 

At around 12:00, fifteen performers from Fossil Free Culture NL calmly took their stage in front of the glass façade of the Concertgebouw. Slowly, three oil-drenched bodies emerged and were gently pressed against the glass. The oily body prints left behind after the performance ended, reminded of the twisted bodies depicted in Francis Bacon’s triptychs.

Maria Rietbergen of Fossil Free Culture NL says: “The is the meeting point for the political and financial elites that rule the Netherlands. Shell lobbyists want to rub shoulders with these elites to normalise their destructive global business practices. Not only in the institution’s business club, but in their boardroom as well. The Concertgebouw is now the last cultural institution on Amsterdam’s Museumplein still accepting sponsorship from the fossil fuel industry. We call for a Fossil Free Museumplein: Concertgebouw, drop Shell!”

The oily body prints refer to the women, men and children across the globe forced, often with their bare hands, to clean up the mess Shell leaves behind. For instance the numerous oil spills in the Niger delta. This unhealthy endeavour usually takes place out of the sight and mind of the majority of the Dutch. Fossil Free Culture NL hits home by placing that particular stain on national culture where it belongs: on Shell’s clubhouse, the Royal Concertgebouw.

The title of the performance, Writing on the Wall, signals that time is up for fossil fuel sponsorship of our cultural heritage.

“The Rijksmuseum rid itself of oilgiant Saudi Aramco in 2017. The Van Gogh Museum followed suit and dropped Shell as their sponsor in 2018. It is now time for the Concertgebouw to immediately cut their ties with the catastrophic fossil fuel industry. Shell is one of the biggest polluters that have knowingly pushed our climate to the brink of collapse. There is no place for Shell in the arts,” says Maria Rietbergen.


Fossil Free Culture NL is a collective of artists, activists, researchers and critics working at the intersection of art and climate activism. Our goal is to confront oil and gas sponsorship of public cultural institutions in the Netherlands. We are committed to terminally eroding the fossil fuel industry’s social legitimacy and their resultant license to operate. We are part of an international movement that works to liberate cultural institutions from fossil fuels. We collaborate with groups in the UK, like BP or not BP? and Culture Unstained; France, Libérons le Louvre; Norway, Stopp oljesponsing av Norsk Kulturliv; USA, Occupy Museums and The Natural History Museum, among others.


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Reports on last Van Gogh Museum performance:

End The Fossil Fuel Age Now (June 9 2018)

Coverage of the Van Gogh Museum dropping Shell as a partner (selection):

– The New York Times:

– Hyperallergic:

– Arts Professional:

Fossil Free Culture NL Manifesto:

Joint Statement Promoting Safe Spaces Within the South Asian Arts Community

December 28, 2018

As active stakeholders in the South Asian arts community, we are concerned by the growing number of allegations of sexual harassment and reports of hostile work environments. These are serious concerns that need to be addressed with urgency. The art world is amorphous in nature: social mobility is dependent on informal networking and personal and professional spaces cannot be easily separated.

Survivors who publicly tell their stories face serious forms of retaliation. They are reluctant to disclose their identities because they fear losing work. As a community, we commit to ensuring that people who are speaking out are protected, and that professional opportunities are not denied to them. We respect the truth and stand in solidarity with those who come out with their stories.

We strongly object to the use of defamation as a method to intimidate and silence survivors and those who represent their interests. We call on all our peers; artists; curators; gallerists; collectors; writers; and heads of both public and private institutions to commit to the safeguarding of survivor accounts. We request them to rigorously advocate for open and supportive spaces that allow women, trans people, queer people, and those who have been disenfranchised by caste and class structures to voice their concerns and find support.

We pledge to collectively reflect, ideate and act on developing the necessary legal and informal support mechanisms to address these challenges. We will do our best to protect spaces for open conversations, and uphold basic codes of professionalism.

The undersigned,

1. Aashna Jhaveri, Artist, Mumbai
2. Abdullah Qureshi, Visual Artist and Researcher, Helsinki
3. Abhay Sardesai, Editor and Writer, Mumbai
4. Abhineet Singh, Founder, the Brewhouse, New Delhi
5. Abhinit Khanna, Independent Arts Manager and Consultant, Mumbai
6. Abhishek Hazra, Artist, Banglore
7. Abir Karmakar, Artist, Baroda
8. Adam Bainbridge, Musician, London
9. Adam Szymczyk, Artistic Director, ducumenta 14, Athens/Kassel
10. Aditya Kapoor, Photographer and Filmmaker, New Delhi
11. Aditya Pande, Artist, New Delhi
12. Adwait Singh, Independent Curator and Writer, New Delhi
13. Afrah Shafiq, Artist/Filmmaker, Goa
14. Akansha Rastogi, Senior Curator, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi
15. Alok Vaid-Menon, Artist, New York
16. Amar Kanwar, Artist, New Delhi
17. Ameet Sikka, Fashion Stylist, New Delhi
18. Amna Hashmi, Art Educator and Practitioner (Assistant Professor),
COMSATS, University, Islamabad
19. Amol K Patil, Artist, Mumbai
20. Amshu Chukki, Artist, Bengaluru
21. Andrew Ananda Voogel, Artist, Taipei
22. Anisa Nariman, Food Writer and Chef, New Delhi, India
23. Anita Khemka, Photographer, Delhi
24. Anita Rani, TV Presenter, London
25. Anjali Monteiro, Filmmaker and Academician, Mumbai
26. Anjalika Sagar, Artist, The Otolith Group, London
27. Ankur Tewari, Musician, Mumbai
28. Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, Artist and Professor, University of Rhode
Island, Bangalore/Rhode Island
29. Anoushka Shankar, Sitarist and Composer, London
30. Anurag Banerjee, Photographer, Bombay
31. Anusha Yadav, The Memory Company, Mumbai
32. Anushka Rajendran, Curator, New Delhi
33. Archana Hande, Artist, Bombay
34. Arijit Bhattacharya, Artist, India
35. Arnav Adhikari, Writer/Editor, New Delhi
36. Arnika Ahldag, JNU, New Delhi
37. Aruna Chandrasekhar, Independent Photojournalist, Bangalore
38. Aruna Keshav, Assistant Director, GALLERYSKE, Bangalore
39. Asmita Parelkar, Photographer, Mumbai
40. Astha Butail, Artist, Gurgaon
41. Aunohita Mojumdar, Editor, Himal Southasian, Colombo
42. Avantika Bhuyan, Freelance Writer, New Delhi
43. Avinash Veeraraghavan, Artist, Bangalore
44. Ayesha Jatoi, Artist, Lahore
45. Aziz Sohail, Curator and Writer, Karachi/Los Angeles
46. Bharat Sikka, Photographer, New Delhi
47. Bhavika Aggarwal, Designer, the Brewhouse, New Delhi
48. Bikkil Sthapit, Artist, Nepal
49. Boshudhara Mukherjee, Artist, Bangalore/Mumbai/Kurseon
50. Bunu Dhungana, Visual Artist, Kathmandu
51. Chandrika Grover Ralleigh, Consultant, Cultural Strategy, New Delhi
52. Charles Esche (Prof.), Director, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven
53. Chinar Shah, Artist, Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore
54. Clare Lilley, Director of Programme, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, UK
55. Cosmin Costinas, Director, Para Site, Hong Kong
56. Cynthia Packert, Middlebury College, Vermont
57. David Sanderson, Times Arts Correspondent, London
58. Dayanita Singh, Artist, New Delhi
59. Deborah Bruguera, Activist, Padova
60. Deep Kailey, Creative Director, London
61. Deepak Ananth, Art Historian and Curator, Paris, France
62. Deepali Dewan, Senior Curator of South Asian Art & Culture, Royal Ontario
Museum, Toronto
63. Devika Bakshi, Writer and Teacher, Delhi
64. Devika Daulet-Singh, Director, PHOTOINK, New Delhi
65. Dhruv Malhotra, Photographer, Jaipur
66. Dia Mehhta Bhupal, Artist, Hyderabad
67. Diana Campbell Betancourt, Artistic Director, Samdani Art Foundation, Chief
Curator, Dhaka Art Summit
68. Dileep Prakash, Artist, New Delhi
69. Dinesh Khanna, Photographer, Delhi
70. Diva Gujral, PhD scholar, University College London, London
71. Dr Emilia Terracciano, Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford,
72. Dr Rashmi Poddar, Director, Jnanapravaha, Mumbai
73. Eesha Patkar, Editorial Manager, Saffronart, Mumbai
74. Elvira Dyangani Ose, Director, The Showroom, London
75. Emilia Bergmans, Founder, the Brewhouse, New Delhi
76. Fiza Khatri, Artist, Karachi
77. Frances Morris, Director, Tate Modern, London
78. Gabi Ngcobo, Independent Curator, Co-Director, Nothing Gets Organised
(NGO), Lecturer, Wits School of Arts, Johannesburg
79. Garima Gupta, Artist and Researcher, New Delhi
80. Gauri Gill, Artist, New Delhi
81. Gayatri Nair, Founding member, Chennai Photo Biennale/CPB Foundation,
82. Guerrilla Girls, Artists, USA
83. Hadrien Diez, Curatorial Advisor, Bengal Foundation, Dhaka
84. Helmut Schippert, Co-Founder, Chennai Photo Biennale/CPB Foundation,
85. Hem Partap Singh, Designer, the Brewhouse, New Delhi
86. Hena Kapadia, Gallery Director, TARQ, Mumbai
87. Henri-Claude, Curator and Former Director of École de Beaux-Arts, Paris,
88. Himali Singh Soin, Writer and Artist, New Delhi/London
89. Iftikhar Dadi, Director, South Asia Program, Cornell University, Ithaca, New
90. Itisha Giri, Poet, Madrid/Kathmandu
91. Jeroo Mullah, Social Communications & Media, Professor and Dancer
92. Jessica Lim, Festival Director, Angkor Photo Festival, Singapore/Cambodia
93. Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra, Artists, New Delhi
94. Joe Paul Cyriac, Photographer, Thiruvananthapuram
95. Jyoti Dhar, Art Critic, Colombo
96. K. P. Jayasankar, Filmmaker and Academician, Mumbai
97. Kai Altmann, Artist, Musician and Curator, Worldwide
98. Kamayani Sharma, Art Critic, New Delhi
99. Kanika Makhija, Artist and Researcher, Mumbai
100.Karan Shrestha, Artist and Filmmaker, Kathmandu/Mumbai
101.Karishma Dev Dube, Filmmaker, New York
102. Karma Wangchuk, Artist, Bhutan
103.Karthik Subramanian, Photographer, Chennai
104. Kartik Sood, Artist, Shimla
105. Kavan Balasuriya, Artist, Sri Lanka
106. Ketaki Sheth, Photographer, Mumbai
107. Kiran Nadar, Chairperson, KNMA, New Delhi
108. Krishnaraj Chonat, Artist, Bangalore
109. Kuldeep Patil, Shiv Nadar University, Delhi
110. Kush Badhwar, Artist, Sydney/Mumbai
111. Madhavi Gore, Artist, Bardez
112. Madhuban Mitra, Artist, Kolkata
113. Mahendra Sinh, Photographer, Mumbai
114. Malini Kochupillai, Artist and Urban researcher, New Delhi
115. Manas Bhattacharya, Artist, Kolkata
116. Manishikha Baul, Performing Artist, Delhi
117. Mario Ashley DSouza, Curator and Writer, New Delhi.
118. Martha Rosler, Artist, Brooklyn, New York
119. Medha Khosla, Designer Entrepreneur, ANOMALY, Delhi
120. Meera Menezes, Art Writer, New Delhi
121. Megha Rawla, Designer, the Brewhouse, New Delhi
122. Megha Roy, Copy-Writer, the Brewhouse, New Delhi
123. Mila Sambdub, Writer, New Delhi
124. Mithu Sen, Artist, New Delhi
125. Monali Meher, Artist, Gent, Belgium
126. Mortimer Chatterjee, Director, Chatterjee & Lal, Mumbai
127. Munem Wasif, Artist, Dhaka
128. Mustafa Khanbhai, Artist, New Delhi
129. Nada Raza, Curator, Dubai
130. Naeem Mohaiemen, Artist and Writer, Dhaka
131. Nalini Malani, Artist, Mumbai
132. Nandita Jaishankar, Editor, New Delhi
133. Natasha Ginwala, Writer and Curator, Colombo
134. NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati, Director, Photo Kathmandu, Kathmandu
135. Nihaal Faizal, Artist, Bangalore
136. Nikhil Chopra, Artist, Bardez
137. Nikhil Kaul, Designer, the Brewhouse, New Delhi
138. Nilanjana S Roy, Author, New Delhi
139. Niranjan Kunwar, Education Consultant and Writer, Kathmandu
140. Orijit Sen, Director, People Tree, Goa
141. Ornella D’Souza, Senior Feature Writer, Daily News & Analysis (DNA),
142. Pakhi Sen, Artist, New Delhi
143. Paribartana Mohanty, Artist, New Delhi
144. Parni Ray, New Delhi
145. Parul Vadhera, Director, Vadhera Art Gallery New Delhi
146. Payal Khandwala, Painter and Clothesmaker, Mumbai
147. Phalguni Desai, Writer and Producer, Mumbai
148. Philippe Calia, Artist, Mumbai
149. Philippe Pirotte, Rector Staedelschule and Director Portikus, Frankfurt
150. Pooja Pant, Artist, Nepal
151. Prabhakar Pachpute, Artist, Pune
152. Prabhavathi Meppayil, Artist, Bangalore
153. Prajakta Potnis, Visual Artist, Mumbai
154. Praneet Soi, Artist, Kolkata/Amsterdam
155. Prarthna Singh, Photographer, Mumbai
156. Prashant Panjiar, Photographer and Curator, Goa
157. Prateek Raja, Director, Experimenter, Kolkata
158. Prawin Adhikari, Asst. Editor, La.Lit, Kathmandu
159. Premjish, Curator and Critic, Delhi
160. Preti Taneja, Writer, United Kingdom
161. Princess Pea, The Pea Family Studio, Gurgaon
162. Priyadarshini Ravichandran, Photographer, Auroville/Chennai
163. Priyanka D’Souza, Artist, Mumbai
164. Priyanka Raja, Director, Experimenter, Kolkata
165. Pulak Bhatnagar, Designer, the Brewhouse, New Delhi
166. Pundoles, Mumbai
167. Pushpamala N, Artist, Bangalore
168. Qudsia Rahim, Executive Director, Lahore Biennale Foundation
169. Rachel Spence, Poet and Arts Writer , London
170. Radha Mahendru, Arts Manager and Filmmaker, Delhi
171. Radhika Chopra, Collector, New Delhi
172. Ragini Bhow, Artist, Bangalore
173. Rahaab Allana, Curator and Publisher, New Delhi
174. Rahel Aima, Writer and Editor, New York
175. Rajyashri Goody, Artist, Pune
176. Ramona Dmello, Digital Marketing Manager, Saffronart, Mumbai
177. Randhir Singh, Photographer, New Delhi
178. Ranjana Steinruecke, Director, Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai
179. Ranjit Kandalgaonkar, Artist and Researcher, Mumbai
180. Rashmi Sawhney, Associate Professor Film & Cultural Studies, Christ
University, Bangalore
181. Rashmi Varma, Designer, New Delhi
182. Rebecca John, Curator and Researcher, Berlin
183. Reeta Loi, Writer and Musician, CEO Gaysians, London
184. Reetu Sattar, Artist, Dhaka
185. Rhea Maheshwari, Assistant Director, GALLERYSKE, New Delhi
186. Rishi Singhal, Discipline Lead – Photography Design, National Institute of
Design, Ahmedabad
187. Ritesh Uttamchandani, Photographer, Mumbai, India
188. Rithika Merchant, Artist, Mumbai/Barcelona
189. Ronny Sen, Photographer and Filmmaker, Kolkata
190. Roobina Karode, Director and Chief Curator, KNMA, New Delhi
191. Rosalyn Dmello, Art Writer and Author, New Delhi
192. Roshni Vadhera, Director, Vadhera Art Gallery New Delhi
193. Rudra Rakshit, Photographer, Bangalore/Pune/Sakleshpur
194. Rupali Patil, Artist, Pune
195. Sabih Ahmed, Researcher, Asia Art Archive in India, New Delhi
196. Sadia Marium, Photographer, Dhaka
197. Sahil Naik, Artist, Ponda
198. Saif Hasnat, Journalist and Lyricist, United News of Bangladesh (UNB)
199. Sakshi Gupta, Artist, Mumbai
200. Salima Hashmi, Artist and Educator, Lahore
201. Samira Bose, Writer and Researcher, New Delhi
202. Sana Nasir, Art Director and Illustrator, Karachi
203. Sandip Kuriakose, Artist and Writer, New Delhi
204. Sania Galundia, Researcher and curator, Jaipur
205. Sanjana Hattotuwa, Founding Editor,, Colombo, Sri Lanka
206. Sathi Guin, Artist, Baroda
207. Savia Mahajan, Artist, Mumbai
208. Saviya Lopes, Artist, Bombay
209. Seher Shah, Artist, New Delhi
210. Sethu Vaidyanathan, Trustee, CPB Foundation, Chennai
211. Shahidul Alam, Photographer, Writer and Activist, Dhaka
212. Shaleen Wadhwana, Independent Arts Professional, New Delhi
213. Shanay Jhaveri, Curator, New York/Mumbai
214. Sharareh Bajracharya, Chairperson, Srijanalaya, Kathmandu
215. Shaunak Mahbubani, Curator, New Delhi
216. Shazia Salam, Artist, Bangalore
217. Sheela Gowda, Artist, Bangalore
218. Sheelasha Rajbhandari, Artist, Artree Nepal, Kathmandu
219. Sheena Dabholkar, LOVER Magazine, Nerul
220. Shibesh Mehrotra, Copy-Writer, the Brewhouse, New Delhi
221. Shireen Gandhy, Gallerist, Mumbai
222. Shirley Bhatnagar, Artist and Designer, New Delhi
223. Shiv Ankit Ahuja, Artist, Gurgaon
224. Shivanjani Lal, Artist, Bombay/Sydney
225. Shreemoyee Moitra, Gallery Manager, Mumbai
226. Shubigi Rao, Artist, Singapore
227. Shuchi Kapoor, Founding member, Chennai Photo Biennale/CPB
Foundation, Chennai
228. Shumon Basar, Curator, Writer and Editor, Dubai/Berlin
229. Sitara Chowfla, Curator, London/New Delhi
230. Skye Arundhati Thomas, Writer and Editor, Mumbai
231. Smita Prabhakar, Collector, Dubai
232. Sneha Ragavan, Researcher, Asia Art Archive in India, New Delhi
233. Sofia Karim, Architect & Artist, London UK
234. Sohrab Hura, Photographer, New Delhi
235. Sooni Taraporevala, Photographer, Screenwriter and Filmmaker, Mumbai
236. Sosa Joseph, Artist, Kochi
237. Soumyadip Ghosh, Researcher & Archive Manager, PHOTOINK, New Delhi
238. Srinivas Kuruganti, Photographer, Mumbai
239. Sudarshan Shetty, Artist, Mumbai
240. Sukanya Ghosh, Artist, New Delhi
241. Sumitra, Researcher and Curator, Bangalore
242. Sunil Padwal, Artist, Mumbai
243. Sunitha Kumar Emmart, Director, GALLERYSKE, Bangalore
244. Suresh Kumar G, Artist and Arts Facilitator, Bangalore
245. Swapnaa Tamhane, Artist and Curator, Montreal, CA
246. Tania Bruguera, Artist, Havana
247. Tanvi Mishra, Creative Director, The Caravan Magazine, Independent
Curator, New Delhi
248. Tanya Goel, Artist, New Delhi
249. Tanzim Wahab, Chief Curator, Bengal Foundation, Dhaka
250. Tara Kelton, Artist, Bangalore
251. Tara Lal, Director, Chatterjee & Lal, Mumbai
252. Tarana Sawhney, Collector, New Delhi
253. Tausif Noor, Curatorial Fellow, Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia
254. Tejal Shah, Artist, Delhi
255. Thomas Pouppez, Arts Manager, Kathmandu
256. Trishla Talera, TIFA Working Studios, Pune
257. Umer Butt, Director, Gallery Grey Noise, Dubai
258. Urvashi Butalia, Publisher, Zubaan Books
259. Ute Meta Bauer, Curator and Director, Center for Contemporary Art, NTU,
260. Varun Gupta, Co-Founder, Chennai Photo Biennale/CPB Foundation,
261. Varunika Saraf, Artist/Art Historian, Hyderabad
262. Veera Rustomji, Artist, Karachi
263. Veeranganakumari Solanki, Independent Curator/Art Writer, Pune
264. Vidisha S, Artist-Curator, New Delhi
265. Vidya Shivdas, Director, FICA, New Delhi
266. Vidyun Sabhaney, Artist/Editor, Delhi
267. Vivek Premachandran, Artist, New Delhi
268. Yabya Kewat, Bharati Vidyapeeth College of Fine Arts, Pune
269. Yogesh S Barve, Artist, Mumbai
270. Zain Masud, Art Advisor, London
271. Zeenat Nagree, Writer, Mumbai
272. Zishaan A Latif, Photography/Films, Mumbai
273. Zubin Ekka, Arts Manager, GALLERYSKE, New Delhi

The circulation of this statement follows #MeToo allegations against high-profile figures in the Indian art world, including artist Subodh Gupta and Kochi-Muziris Biennale cofounder Riyas Komu. Gupta denied the claims and stepped down as guest curator of the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa, India. Komu resigned after the allegations against him were made public and, in an Instagram post, offered his apologies to the victims. The accusations against Gupta and Komu were posted to Instagram by  Scene and Herd, which aims to raise awareness for sexual misconduct in the Indian art world.

Decolonize This Place Calls Town Hall Assembly Regarding Whitney Museum’s Tear Gas Problem

December 27, 2018

Image Courtesy of Decolonize this Place

The Crisis of the Whitney Is Just Beginning

To the Whitney Museum: your crisis is just beginning.

To the Whitney Staff: we send our love and support.

To everyone who feels a stake in the crisis of the Whitney: join us for a Town Hall Assembly on January 26.

Like many of you reading this letter, we work precarious jobs. We struggle to pay bills. We are in debt. We have families and friends to take care of. We are dealing with physical and emotional unwellness. We are working every day with our communities to build movements capable of combating the forces not simply of Trumpism, but of settler-colonization, capitalism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy for which Trump is only a morbid and glaring symptom. Yet faced with the deafening public silence concerning the current crisis of the Whitney Museum — both from the museum and from leading voices in the artworld — we feel the need to make this statement. After the courageous letter written by staff calling for the removal of Safariland owner and CEO Warren Kanders from the board of the Whitney, and the action undertaken by Decolonize This Place and its collaborators on December 9th to amplify that demand, we write today in a spirit of both radical honesty and critical generosity to ask: what will it take for others to stand, speak, and act in order to force the Whitney to reverse its current course?

1. Background. On December 9th, Decolonize This Place and collaborators assembled at the Whitney to the demand the removal of Warren B. Kanders from the board of the museum. Kanders is the CEO Safariland, a manufacturer “law enforcement products” including the tear gas used against migrant families at the US-Mexico border, as well as demonstrators in Ferguson, Standing Rock, Oakland, and Palestine. Our action was autonomous from, but in solidarity with, a letter signed one week earlier at great personal risk by 100 staffers from the Whitney itself calling for the removal of Kanders. When the museum director Adam Weinberg made it clear that he would disregard the concerns of staffers and would be standing with Kanders, we expected an outcry from the progressive sectors of the artworld. The sectors, for instance, that two years earlier had gathered for the high-profile J20 Anti-Fascist Speak-Out at the Whitney on the day Trump was inaugurated. But when no response was forthcoming, we felt the need to act. Like many staff members, many of us who participated in the December 9th action come from communities on the receiving end of Kanders’ weapons. Indigenous people; Black people; Latinx people; Asian people; Palestinian people; undocumented people; queer people; trans people; dispossessed people; displaced people, precarious people: in other words, people struggling on a daily basis against the forces exemplified by Kanders. Against the toxic clouds of teargas brought into the world by Safariland, we burned sage inside the lobby. “Teargas is poison. Sage is Medicine,” announced one of our speakers. The sweet smoke lingered in the museum for days, a potent reminder that the crisis first activated by the staff with their courageous letter had only just begun.

2. Museum Still Silent. Two weeks since the action, the museum still refuses to publicly respond. Given the backfiring of Weinberg’s last public pronouncement, the current strategy is apparently to lay low and pretend nothing happened in the hopes that it will blow over during the holidays — even as it creates an atmosphere of intimidation for workers who have spoken out.

3. Artworld Still Silent. Following the staff letter, the statement from Weinberg, and ultimately our action of December 9th, we had expected a tipping point of outrage and a clear-eyed amplification on the part of the progressive sectors of the artworld of the staffers’ demand: Kanders must go. Yet, with several important exceptions, there has been a conspicuous silence from many artists, curators, historians, and critics, including those whose work is celebrated for its engagement with themes of politics, social practice, racial justice, and even institutional critique. We imagined that folks who make their living by examining things like militarized borders, police brutality, political protest, and indeed the structures of oppression at work in the modern museum, would spring into action. But instead, we largely hear crickets on social media, on websites, in list serves, and academic departments. We feel this silence is not a matter of callous indifference. Instead, it is a sign that powerful people are shaken by the profound contradiction that is finally coming to a head between the purported values of contemporary art and the violent profiteering that subtends most of the major institutions of the art system.

4. Concerns and Truisms. In private, we hear questions, concerns, and truisms: Why the Whitney, the most progressive of all museums? Why not focus on Kanders himself rather than the museum? Isn’t all money in the art world tainted at some level? Are you naive? Don’t you realize that this is how the world works? Would you have us bite the hand that feeds us? Where do you draw the line? Can we not make good with the bad? What would we do without money like that given by Kanders? How would the museum continue to function? How would there even be art without the these necessary but unfortunate ties to the 1%? Do you want us to lose other donors? Do you want Weinberg to lose his job? What about all the good he has done?

5. Kanders is the Tip of the Iceberg. People understand that Kanders is the tip of the iceberg, and that if taken to its logical conclusion, the normal order of business, power, and privilege in the art system is put at risk. The letter from the staff and the action of December 9th show that cultural workers and our communities are refusing the normalization of not just Kanders, but of the entire settler-institutional nexus of art, capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy for which he stands. We can no longer accept the artworld logic of career over cause, with artists and critics making politically engaged work against the backdrop of an institutional framework grounded in the artwashing of profits for figures like Kanders, but also David W. Carey, another Whitney board member who is former executive director of the CIA and currently CEO of military contractor Oracle. Inaction with respect to the art-washing industrial complex of contemporary art makes our field complicit with death, disaster, and destruction. We also understand this goes far beyond the Whitney. Guggenheim. Brooklyn Museum. New Museum. Metropolitan. MoMA. And make no mistake: real estate moguls and tech giants are no better to us than Kanders.

6. These Contradictions Are Not New. We acknowledge a long legacy of artists and collectives who have worked to confront these contradictions. We look especially the the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition and Black Women Artists and Students for Black Liberation, who called for a fundamental dismantling of the capitalist, racist, and patriarchal underpinnings of the museum, and a redistribution of its resources and infrastructures. The contradictions such groups activated in the late 1960s have only sharpened since then.

7. De-normalization and Re-imagination. To de-normalize the situation exemplified by Kanders requires us to break the block imposed on our imagination when we are told “be realistic! be reasonable! This is just how things are!” It requires us to reimagine what an art institution could be and whom it is meant to serve. What else is possible, beyond the untenable situation we have today? The museum as we know is a settler-institution that has monopolized the definition of art. It has brought with it an entire division of labor to enforce this definition, the kind Weinberg invokes when he tells his staff to play their roles and stay in their lanes. Maybe when Kanders, his ilk, and their money are gone, the museum does indeed look like a very different place with a very different system of accounts. A place, for instance, run by and for cultural workers and their communities as a cooperative platform rather than a money-laundering operation for the ultra-wealthy. A place that de-centers whiteness and dismantles patriarchy. A place that acknowledges that it stands on occupied indigenous territory, and takes reparative measures. A place that provides sanctuary and self-defense from ICE. A place that repurposes the remnants of luxury infrastructure in order to build power and make art with and for the people. A place that is hospitable to the healing energies of sage rather than a refuge for tear-gas profiteers. A place that is built on radical love and relationships of care. A place that understands that conflicts can be points of construction. A place, in other words, that is undergoing a process of decolonization.

7. Asking Better Questions. We do not presume to answer the questions above as to what a post-Kanders museum would look like. That can and will be determined in the course of collective discussion, struggle and experimentation. But we do know that the current situation with Kanders is unacceptable, and that the crisis is set to escalate. Even the gesture itself of publicly standing against Kanders inaugurated by the Whitney staff has already helped us all to ask better questions of the world we inhabit.

8. A Call for #J26. We thus call upon all individuals and communities who feel a stake in the current crisis of the Whitney to assemble on January 26th with location in Manhattan to be announced. The event will be a forum not only for the expression of grievances, but also for practical planning in terms of how to best achieve the goal of removing Kanders from the board of the Whitney through a diversity of tactics and strategies, while at the same time forming new relationships and solidarities for actions in 2019 surrounding the Whitney Biennial and beyond that the city at large.

9. In the Meantime. We have intentionally called for this event to take place more than a month from now. We hope that a lot will happen in the intervening weeks. Perhaps more autonomous art-actions will take place at the museum. The Whitney and its board of directors could make the right call any day now, and remove Kanders based on the crisis as it has developed so far. Staff may come out in force with another letter, actions, or even a strike. We wonder what the curators of the 2019 Whitney Biennale have planned, as well as the artists on the Biennale list. Friends of the Whitney, from progressive board members, to artists, to the Whitney Independent Study Program, to historians and critics, may also initiate their own series of responses. Op-eds, petitions, boycotts, even a de-occupation? All this would be welcomed. Whatever happens in the coming month, the J26 town hall will be a place for all to gather, assess, pressure the Whitney to do the right thing, as we build power together.

10. 2019 is Coming. We end this statement by amplifying the basic demand that the Whitney staff made in their letter at great personal and professional risk to themselves. Warren Kanders must go. We say to the museum: we have heard from reliable sources that you are trying to intimidate the staff in ways implicit and explicit, e.g. screenshotting social media accounts of staff and reporting them to department heads. We say to the staff: we are here to listen, to think together, and collaborate to counter the museum’s environment of fear and intimidation, as we share our desires, visions, and plans. The crisis you have brought into the open brings with it old questions with deep implications for our communities and movements. This is why we insist that Kanders is but a symptom of a fundamental structural crisis for the art system, and that the removal of Kanders must be understood as but one step in a broader process of decolonization.

Please feel free to contact us at with any information, suggestions, or concerns. We are committed to absolute discretion.


A graphic created by MTL+ and Decolonize This Place to protest Warren B. Kanders’s status as vice chair of the Whitney Museum’s board.

Creativity Wronged: How women’s right to artistic freedom is denied and marginalized (Report)

December 26, 2018

Over the years, women have been fighting for equality to gain the same legal and human rights as men—the right to vote, the right to own land, the right to an education, and many more. It was less than 40 years ago that an international treaty was enacted to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women. Change remains slow. In 2018, globally, women continue to face unequal treatment, frequent harassment and have limited access to—or are simply completely shut off from—particular practices and experiences. These inequalities stretch significantly into the artistic world for women. Women who perform wearing ‘inappropriate’ clothing or express ‘indecent’ words or thoughts are imprisoned in some countries. Others are censored, prosecuted, fined, fired, harassed, attacked or, in the very worst circumstances, killed. Women all over the world are forced continually to walk a fine line, balancing on the edge of vague definitions made by family, social groups, religious groups, fundamentalist groups and governments, which, if crossed, have significant consequences. Women artists have to suffer that daily negotiation, not because they are artists, but because they are women.



Alankrita Shrivastava’s film Lipstick Under My Burkha was initially denied release in India for being “lady oriented”, Icelandic artist Borghildur Indriðadóttir had her Facebook friends and photos deleted after she shared a promo of her photo exhibition Demoncrazy featuring topless women, and Afghan playwright and actor Monirah Hashemi received death threats for performing in Afghanistan and shut herself inside her house for three months before relocating to Sweden to continue her career in the arts.

These women artists are just a few of the voices in Freemuse’s new report Creativity Wronged: How women’s right to artistic freedom is denied and marginalized. The first-of-its-kind, 100-page report highlighting the inequality, exclusion, and harassment of women artists and audiences around the world, as documented through five years of research. It is based on dozens of qualitative interviews and contains an analysis of over 90 cases of violations against women artists and audiences over the last five years.

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