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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,
London/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,
Chennai
82. Guerrilla Girls, Artists, USA
83. Hadrien Diez, Curatorial Advisor, Bengal Foundation, Dhaka
84. Helmut Schippert, Co-Founder, Chennai Photo Biennale/CPB Foundation,
Chennai
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,
France
88. Himali Singh Soin, Writer and Artist, New Delhi/London
89. Iftikhar Dadi, Director, South Asia Program, Cornell University, Ithaca, New
York
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),
Mumbai
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, Groundviews.org, 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,
Singapore
260. Varun Gupta, Co-Founder, Chennai Photo Biennale/CPB Foundation,
Chennai
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
warrenkanders-warhol-1460-720x1008

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 decolonizethisplace@gmail.com with any information, suggestions, or concerns. We are committed to absolute discretion.

DTP_Whitney-Branding.jpg

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.

Creativity-Wronged_equals

 

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.

WE’RE SICK OF IT!

December 11, 2018

————-german below————-

 

WE’RE SICK OF IT!

Who we are: Migrant/Black/Indigenous/Lesbian/Queer/Trans* Artists of Color

http://www.wearesickofit.wordpress.com
Kontakt: 
wearesickofit18@gmail.com

On November 12, 2018, artist and filmmaker Cana Bilir-Meier was invited to take part in a public conversation regarding Germany’s political shift to the right at the Münchner Kammerspiele. The talk was organized and moderated by curator Kasper König. After the talk, Bilir-Meier wrote a Facebook post in which she talked about König’s racist behaviour and wordings, both before and during the discussion. She also posted a video clip of a short excerpt from the talk. The entire event (german) can be seen here: https://vimeo.com/300969522?fbclid=IwAR1YX6CLtSKUv63KfIQ_MkbVyrbA7pTRoDC23U5VAYhNrFeYDURyeqNK9TM

With this letter we would like to emphasize our solidarity with Cana Bilir-Meier. We have witnessed how the discussions that followed this incident have been reduced to Cana Bilir-Meier as an individual. We insist that this incident is not an isolated case. It is not at all about an interpersonal conflict between two people. On the contrary – this incident reveals mechanisms that we as migrant/black/indigenous/lesbian/queer/trans artists of Color have experienced numerous times.

While our individual experiences of discrimination might differ, we have all been confronted with racism. Hierarchies in the art world and the dependencies they produce (yes, even we have to live from something!) do not always allow us to speak out and defend ourselves against discrimination. Cana Bilir-Meier however defended herself, giving voice not only to the discrimination she faced, but also to that faced by many people!

1. We observe that the structural levels of racism and discrimination disappear when we express our criticism, and that we are accused of being aggressive or self-pitying when we call it out! WE ARE SICK OF

  • constantly explaining that capitalism, nation-states, hegemony, heteronormativity and various forms of discrimination are entwined with one another.
  • the fact that forms of discrimination such as racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, anti-semitism, anti-muslim racism/islamophobia, and transphobia are used to judge, to select and yes, ultimately, to kill. They are employed to enable participation in and access to economic and political orders for certain people. They are always employed in order to sustain structures of domination.
  • the personalization of structural discrimination, which trivializes and conceals its political and socio-economic impact.
  • how people express solidarity, profess anti-racism and position themselves against racial discrimination, but then are unwilling to change anything structurally.

2. Institutions acquire „critical“ knowledge without assuming responsibility, and thus reproduce forms of discrimination! WE ARE SICK OF

  • an art world that, on the one hand, deals “critically” with migration, racism, colonialism, etc., yet reproduces discrimination at the same time.
  • the fact that people talk to us, but then make our perspectives and voices invisible. That we are invited, but are only interesting as long as our criticism does not interfere with the everyday praxis of the institution/person, but instead helps them improve their image.
  • the fact that institutions only temporarily bring in critical artistic, political positions from outside and accuse us of belligerence or of being uncooperative as soon as we express ourselves critically about racism.
  • how big art and cultural institutions want to critically reflect on racism, migration, colonialism, but then only white people get well paid, non-precarious jobs.
  • the same people and institutions all too often remain silent about discrimination(s) and that they still have to be made aware of it.
  • people and institutions embellishing themselves with “openness,” critical consciousness and discourses, while decisions and actions never change.

3. What impact does structural discrimination have on our lives and our creativity? WE ARE SICK OF

  • being judged and having stereotypical images constructed about us.
  • being objectified by art and cultural institutions and universities, them determining what art and knowledge production must look like, which language they can be articulated in, who talks about whom and how.
  • the ways in which power structures and gazes define what thinking, feeling, writing, learning and seeing are.
  • being accused of making “personal and constructive conversations” impossible because we are not willing to have these conversations behind closed doors and in an individualized manner.
  • hearing that we simply misunderstood and that it wasn’t meant like that, that we are exaggerating and it has nothing at all to do with racism.
  • of our opinions being discredited because discrimination affects us emotionally and we are not involved on a purely factual level.

You want to sign the statment email to: wearesickofit18@gmail.com

After the video of the event was posted online, the Municipal Theater in Munich apologized for König’s remarks.

The municipal theater posted this message on its Facebook page (translated from German):

On November 12, 2018, in Chamber 3 of the Munich Kammerspiele, a discussion took place in the “König” series, in which Cana Bilir-Meier, Wilhelm Klotzek and Henrike Naumann were to be in discussion with Kasper König as moderator. The term “Homeland” was the topic and with it, its fitness for the art world and the accompanying aesthetic political discourse around the concept was to be discussed. This attempt missed his goal. In this respect, statements made by the host, which can be understood as degrading in particular to (post-)migrants; Kasper König has apologized to the artist, Bilir-Meier. Matthias Lilienthal, as director of the Munich Kammerspiele, apologizes for the fact that in an event he has been responsible, he has been chosen to have insulted both Bilir-Meier and (post-)migrants in Germany. A discussion on the subject is in planning.

Read more in Hyperallergic:

German Museum Director and Curator Accused of Making Racist Remarks About German-Turks at Panel

 

————-german————-

 

ES KOTZT UNS AN!

Wer sind wir: migrantische/Schwarze/indigene/lesbische/queere/trans Künstler*innen of Color.

http://www.wearesickofit.wordpress.com
Kontakt: 
wearesickofit18@gmail.com

Am 12. November 2018 ist die Künstlerin und Filmemacherin Cana Bilir-Meier zu einem Talk eingeladen worden, der im Rahmen der Münchner Kammerspiele vom Kurator Kasper König organisiert und moderiert wurde. Thema der Veranstaltung war der Rechtsruck in Deutschland. Nach dem Talk schrieb Cana Bilir-Meier einen Facebook-Post, in dem sie den rassistischen Umgang und die Ausdrucksweise von König vor und während der öffentlichen Diskussion thematisierte.

Dazu hat sie ein Video gepostet, das einen kurzen Ausschnitt aus dem Talk zeigt. Die gesamte Veranstaltung ist auf folgendem Link anzusehen: https://vimeo.com/300969522?fbclid=IwAR1YX6CLtSKUv63KfIQ_MkbVyrbA7pTRoDC23U5VAYhNrFeYDURyeqNK9TM

Mit diesem Schreiben möchten wir unsere Solidarität mit Cana Bilir-Meier unterstreichen. Denn: In der Diskussion, die auf die Veranstaltung folgte, müssen wir einmal mehr feststellen, dass der Vorfall auf Cana Bilir-Meier persönlich reduziert wird. Wir möchten jedoch entschieden darauf hinweisen, dass dieser Vorfall kein Einzelfall ist. Es geht hier keinesfalls um einen persönlichen Konflikt, im Gegenteil werden vielmehr Mechanismen sichtbar, die wir als migrantische/schwarze/indigene/lesbische/queere/trans Künstler*innen of Color selbst schon mehrfach erlebt haben.

Wir sind zwar unterschiedlich von Diskriminierung betroffen, jedoch sind wir alle schon mit rassistischen Positionen konfrontiert worden. Hierarchien im Kunstkontext und damit verbundene Abhängigkeiten (Ja, auch wir müssen von etwas leben!) lassen es nicht immer zu, dass wir uns dagegen wehren können. Cana Bilir-Meier hat sich jedoch zur Wehr gesetzt und damit nicht nur die Diskriminierung ihr gegenüber, sondern gegenüber Vielen sichtbar gemacht!

1. Wir stellen fest, dass die strukturelle Ebene von Rassismus und Diskriminierungen ausgeblendet wird, wenn wir unsere Kritik formulieren und wir anschließend beschuldigt werden, aggressiv oder wehleidig zu sein! ES KOTZT UNS AN, DASS

  • wir immer erklären müssen, dass Kapitalismus, Nationalstaatlichkeit, Hegemonie, Heternormativitäten und Diskriminierungsformen miteinander verschränkt sind.
  • Diskriminierungsformen wie Rassismus, Sexismus, Homophobie, Klassismus, Antisemitismus, antimuslimischer Rassismus, Transphobie Werkzeuge sind, um zu bewerten,  zu selektieren, ja letztendlich zu töten. Immer werden sie dafür eingesetzt, die Teilhabe und den Zugang zu ökonomischen und politischen Privilegien nur bestimmten Menschen zu ermöglichen. Immer werden sie dafür eingesetzt, Herrschaftsstrukturen aufrechtzuerhalten.
  • strukturelle Diskriminierungen personalisiert werden und die politische und sozioökonomische Bedeutung dadurch verharmlost oder verschwiegen wird.
  • sich Leute solidarisieren, sich gegen Rassismus bekennen und positionieren, dann aber strukturell nichts ändern wollen.

2. Institutionen eignen sich “kritisches” Wissen an, ohne Verantwortung zu übernehmen und reproduzieren somit Formen von Diskriminierungen! ES KOTZT UNS AN, DASS

  • ein Kunstkontext, der sich auf der einen Seite „kritisch“ mit Migration, Rassismus, Klassismus und Kolonialismus auseinandersetzt, gleichzeitig Diskriminierungen reproduziert.
  • mit uns gesprochen wird, aber unsere Perspektiven und Stimmen unsichtbar gemacht werden. Dass wir eingeladen werden, aber nur interessant sind, solange unsere Kritik nicht die alltägliche Praxis der Institution/Person kritisiert, sondern ihr bei einer Imageverbesserung hilft.
  • sich Institutionen kritische künstlerisch-politische Positionen nur temporär von außen holen und uns Streitlust oder mangelnde Kooperation vorwerfen, sobald wir uns kritisch gegenüber Rassismus äußern.
  • sich die großen Kunst- und Kulturinstitutionen kritisch mit Rassismus, Migration, Kolonialismus auseinander setzen wollen, dann aber nur weiße Personen die gut bezahlten und nicht prekären Jobs bekommen.
  • dieselben Personen und Institutionen allzu oft zu Diskriminierung(en) schweigen und immer noch auf diese hingewiesen werden müssen.
  • sich Personen und Institutionen zwar mit “Offenheit”, kritischem Bewusstsein und Diskursen schmücken, sich gleichzeitig jedoch Entscheidungen und Handlungen nicht verändern.

3. Welche Auswirkungen haben strukturelle Diskriminierungen auf unser Leben und Schaffen? ES KOTZT UNS AN, DASS

  • wir von Kunst- und Kulturinstitutionen und Universitäten objektiviert werden und diese bestimmen, wie Kunst- und Wissensproduktion aussehen müssen, in welcher Sprache sie artikuliert werden dürfen, wer wie über wen spricht.
  • wir bewertet werden und dass dadurch stereotype Bilder über uns konstruiert werden.
  • die Machtstrukturen und Blickkonstruktionen das Denken, Fühlen, Schreiben, Lernen und Schauen an sich strukturieren.
  • wir beschuldigt werden, „persönliche und konstruktive Gespräche“ zu verunmöglichen, weil wir nicht bereit sind, die Diskussion nur hinter verschlossenen Türen und in individualisierter Weise zu führen.
  • wir dann hören, dass wir nur was falsch verstanden haben und es nicht so gemeint war, dass wir übertreiben und es sich überhaupt nicht um Rassismus handelt.
  • unsere Meinungen diskreditiert werden, weil uns Diskriminierungen auch emotional betreffen und wir nicht rein sachlich beteiligt sind.

 

Whitney Museum Staff Demands Answers Over Vice Chair’s Relationship to Tear Gas Manufacturer

December 4, 2018

To the leadership of the Whitney Museum:

We are writing to convey our outrage upon learning that Whitney Vice Chairman Warren Kanders’ company, Safariland, is the supplier of the tear gas recently used to attack asylum seekers at the US border, and our frustration and confusion at the Whitney’s decision to remain silent on this matter. We understand this is not new information to leadership or likely to the rest of the Board, but many of us learned of the connection via the Hyperallergic article published November 27, 2018. We also understand the nuanced and vital relationship any nonprofit has to its Board. But we believe that this recently aired knowledge about Mr. Kanders’ business is demonstrative of the systemic injustice at the forefront of the Whitney’s ongoing struggle to attract and retain a diverse staff and audience. And because we feel strongly about this, we believe it is our responsibility to speak to this injustice directly, even as the Whitney has chosen not to. To remain silent is to be complicit.

First and foremost, some of us are deeply connected to the communities that are being directly impacted and targeted by the tear gassing at the border. For the Whitney not to acknowledge that this news may impact its staff is to assume we are separate from the issue, that it is happening somewhere else to some other people. Many of us feel the violence inflicted upon the refugees—and against mostly-POC protesters in Ferguson, and mostly-Indigenous protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline, just two of many other instances of militarized tear gassing of unarmed citizens—much more personally than it seems to affect leadership. For many of us, the communities at the border, in Ferguson, in the Dakotas, are our communities. We read the Hyperallergic article and felt not annoyed, not intellectually upset—we felt sick to our stomachs, we shed tears, we felt unsafe.

As of Thursday morning, November 29, we have received no official internal communication addressing the Hyperallergic article. A small group of us were informed of the Whitney’s policy not to comment on the personal business of Trustees, but this is public knowledge, not a private matter of Mr. Kanders’. Setting aside the personal reactions of staff, this choice makes it difficult for staff to function well professionally. Should protests from the public or questions from visitors arise, our visitor-facing staff will be the ones answering them. Leadership choosing not to give a public (or even internal) statement displaces the labor to our visitor-facing staff, who are, generally speaking, our most diverse and lowest paid staff. You will recall similar complaints surrounding the Dana Schutz protests—and we are disappointed that the response by the leadership of this institution remains the same.

So many of us are working towards a more equitable and inclusive institution. We work to bring in artists who are immigrants and artists of color to the collection. We create programming for youth and families who are affected by current immigration policy. Upon learning of Kanders’s business dealings, many of us working on these initiatives feel uncomfortable in our positions. We cannot claim to serve these communities while accepting funding from individuals whose actions are at odds with that mission. This work which we are so proud of does not wash away these connections.

The Whitney has historically followed artists’ lead in finding our way through thorny decisions. Now we encourage the Whitney to follow the lead of its staff.

Here are our current demands:

  • For leadership to convey our concerns to the Board, including that they consider asking for Warren Kanders’ resignation.
  • A public statement from the Whitney in response to the Hyperallergic article
  • A museum wide staff forum for employees to discuss this and other issues, and related policies moving forward
  • The development and distribution of a clear policy around Trustee participation.
    • NB: Here, we intend to clarify what qualifies or disqualifies a wealthy philanthropic individual for the Board. Is there a moral line? If so, what is that line? If this was an instance of a #metoo scandal, would we call for resignation? If this was an instance of overt racism, would we call for resignation? We believe the line should be that we not be afflicted with any Board member whose work or actions are at odds with the museum’s mission.

We acknowledge the difficult position in which these demands will place leadership, and consequently the unfortunate strain any ramifications will put on our staff. But we believe in speaking truth to power, we believe in cultural institutions as community leaders and as sanctuary spaces, and we believe that there is a better way. To achieve true institutional health, measured not on the quality of our exhibitions or the number of tickets sales, but the genuine satisfaction of our audiences and staff, we need to address these uncomfortable issues. We need to interrogate our tendencies to look the other way. We are reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.

Continuing to accept funding—even, or perhaps especially, transformative funding—from individuals who are knowingly complicit in the injustices committed on our own land and across our borders is negative peace. We demand positive peace.

Thank you, and we look forward to a productive dialogue and definitive change.

Sincerely,

  1. Dani Lencioni
  2. Elena Ketelsen González
  3. Melissa Robles
  4. Hakimah Abdul-Fattah
  5. Jeanette Gonzalez
  6. Mark Guinto
  7. Dyeemah Simmons
  8. Dina Helal
  9. Levi Friedman
  10. Deja Belardo
  11. Caroline Kelley
  12. Hunter Adams
  13. Christy Yanis
  14. Shaye Thiel
  15. Dante Fumagalli
  16. Natali Cabrera
  17. Billie Rae Vinson
  18. Emma Quaytman
  19. Marcela Guerrero
  20. Vishal Narang
  21. Leslie Castaneda
  22. Isabelle Dow
  23. Amalia Delgado Hodges
  24. Ramsay Kolber
  25. Ambika Trasi
  26. Greta Hartenstein
  27. Christie Mitchell
  28. Rujeko Hockley
  29. Kelly Long
  30. Hilary Devaney
  31. Kennia Lopez
  32. Alana Hernandez
  33. Carly Fischer
  34. Anes Sung
  35. Aliza Sena
  36. Elizabeth Knowlton
  37. Michael Moriah
  38. Claire K. Henry
  39. Clemence White
  40. Justin Allen
  41. Danielle Bias
  42. Jessica Palinski
  43. Lauren Young
  44. Margaret Kross
  45. Madison Zalopany
  46. Colin Brooks
  47. Lawrence Hernandez
  48. Nicholas DiLeonardi
  49. Jackie Foster
  50. Max Chester
  51. Jennifer Ciarleglio
  52. Emma Gluck
  53. Sasha Wortzel
  54. Lauri London Freedman
  55. Micah Musheno
  56. Joseph Shepherd
  57. Megan Heuer
  58. Karly Anderson
  59. Liz Plahn
  60. Andrew Hawkes
  61. Greg Siegel
  62. David Huerta
  63. Mike Jensen
  64. Sofia Sinibaldi
  65. Nancy Joyce
  66. Eric Preiss
  67. Max Parry
  68. Saleem Nasir Gondal
  69. Ricki Rothchild
  70. Aqsa Ahmad
  71. Jennie Goldstein
  72. Laura Phipps
  73. Andrea Ahtziri Reséndiz Gómez
  74. Melinda Lang
  75. Austin Bowes
  76. Ariel Luisa Mercado
  77. Justin Romeo
  78. Nicolas Ochart
  79. Kayla Espinal
  80. Nathaniel LaCelle-Peterson
  81. Jessica Man
  82. Luis Padilla
  83. Jaz Garner
  84. Yon Mi Kim
  85. Rachel Ninomiya
  86. Michael Brogan
  87. Jessica Pepe
  88. Jason Phillips
  89. Rebecca Walsh
  90. Kelley Loftus
  91. Chrissie Iles
  92. Lindsey O’Connor
  93. Joanna Epstein
  94. Zoe Tippl
  95. Joel Snyder

_______________________________________________________________________

Adam Weinberg, the Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art responded to the letter on December 3, 2018

 

Dear Staff and Trustees,

I write to you now as one community, one family—the Whitney. Together, for the last fifteen years, we have created a place of great promise, hopes and dreams, often against great odds. Our community united in common purpose to reimagine a home for artists in the 21st century where they can envision, experiment, struggle, risk and even protest openly, unencumbered and uncensored. We have fashioned this protected space together through mutual trust, respect, openness and discussion even when opinions differ. We respect the right to dissent as long as we can safeguard the art in our care and the people in our midst. As one director colleague describes the contemporary museum, it is “a safe space for unsafe ideas.” This is the democracy of art.

We truly live in difficult times. People are suffering in our city, the US and around the world: nationalism has risen to unimaginable heights; homelessness is rampant; refugee crises abound; people of color, women and LGBTQ communities feel under attack; and the environment grows more precarious. All these tragedies have understandably led to tremendous sadness and frustration, quick tempers, magnified rhetoric and generational conflict.

Like many contemporary cultural institutions, the Whitney Museum has always been a space for the playing out of disparate and conflicting ideas. Even as we are idealistic and missionary in our belief in artists—as established by our founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney—the Whitney is first and foremost a museum. It cannot right all the ills of an unjust world, nor is that its role. Yet, I contend that the Whitney has a critical and urgent part to play in making sure that unheard and unwanted voices are recognized. Through our openness and independence, we can foreground often marginalized, unconventional and seemingly unacceptable ideas not presented in other sites in our culture.

I am proud of the work we are doing to present progressive and challenging artists and exhibitions for vast audiences, including this year alone: David Wojnarowicz, an outcast voice silenced much too early; Zoe Leonard, a poet of the unseen and unsung; Pacha, Llaqta, Wasichay, a chance to experience powerful new Latinx voices; Programmed, a radical rethinking of art and technology; Mary Corse, a giant of her generation often overlooked because of her gender; Grant Wood, who worked in other challenging times; Between the Waters, a view of young artists grappling with environmental precariousness; Nick Mauss’s meditation on dance, fashion, design and untold queer histories; and now, Andy Warhol, whose work continues to interrogate and upend how we think of the world today. Beyond that we have presented a compelling array of artist-centric educational and community programs that reach increasingly diverse publics from our neighborhood and afar.

We at the Whitney have created a culture that is unique and vibrant—but also precious and fragile. This “space” is not one I determine as director but something that we fashion by mutual consent and shared commitment on all levels and in many ways. As members of the Whitney community, we each have our critical and complementary roles: trustees do not hire staff, select exhibitions, organize programs or make acquisitions, and staff does not appoint or remove board members. Our truly extraordinary environment, which lends such high expectations, is something we must preserve collectively. Even as we contend with often profound contradictions within our culture, we must live within the laws of society and observe the “rules” of our Museum—mutual respect, fairness, tolerance and freedom of expression and, speaking personally, a commitment to kindness. It is so easy to tear down but so much more difficult to build and sustain.

To those of you, and I trust it is nearly all, who want to move forward despite some significant differences of opinion, I am here as your partner, to lead and to work hard every day to make the Whitney, and possibly the world, a better place. I accept that there may be a few of you who are not inclined to do so, but I would like nothing more than to continue this journey together. We have important work to do. As Flora Miller Biddle, the granddaughter of our founder, said several years ago, “The Whitney Museum is an idea…” This idea, painstakingly built for close to ninety years, has been bequeathed to us. It is a vulnerable idea,  now ours to nurture.

I am deeply grateful to our extremely committed, thoughtful and generous board, as well as to our talented and dedicated staff.

I look forward to working and meeting with you in the days ahead.

With respect,

Adam

________________________________________________________________________

Whitney Vice Chair Responds to Open Letter Calling for Action Against Him

 

To the Whitney Board of Trustees:

I am writing in response to the statement signed by staff members of the Whitney. I am, and always have been, exceptionally proud of my company, its employees and our vital mission to provide safety and survivability products for public safety professionals, which we have been doing for over 50 years. I also appreciate that, while this is a highly politicized and divisive time, these developments create an opportunity for an open and informed dialogue that will hopefully bring us together around common values.

While the staff at the Whitney felt the need to speak out, which I fully support, it is unfortunate that they did not first reach out to me. As such, I have taken it upon myself to respond.

I am the Chairman, CEO and owner of The Safariland Group. We are the largest global manufacturer of body armor for police officers, we provide safety holsters that prevent criminals from taking firearms from cops and we make the majority of the bomb suits worldwide worn by people who risk their lives to keep us safe.

We also manufacture the non-lethal products that started this discussion, including what is commonly known as tear gas. Non-lethal products were created as an alternative to lethal solutions. Regardless of one’s political persuasion, I hope we can all agree that uncontrolled riots pose a serious threat not only to the safety and security of law enforcement, but also to the public in general. When faced with a chaotic situation, law enforcement officers have few options for crowd control, and non-lethal products (including “tear gas”) are on the list.

Safariland’s role as a manufacturer is to ensure the products work, as expected, when needed. Safariland’s role is not to determine when and how they are employed. The staff letter implies that I am responsible for the decision to use these products. I am not. That is not an abdication of responsibility, it is an acknowledgement of reality. We sell products to government institutions, domestically and internationally, all of which must be certified to purchase and use these products. Domestic buyers must be bona fide law enforcement agencies. In the case of international clients, we are required to obtain export licenses from the Department of State for every shipment. In other words, our business is highly regulated to ensure that our products are only sold to governmentapproved users.

Notwithstanding an obvious difference of opinion, I admire the bravery of the staff in stepping forward. Having said that, however, I think it is clear that I am not the problem the authors of the letter seek to solve. I spend a substantial amount of time with the first responders Safariland serves, and they are not the problem either. In fact, they are self-sacrificing men and women who put themselves in danger every day on our collective behalf.

I am proud that we have broadened the Whitney’s role as the preeminent institution devoted to the art of the United States. While my company and the museum have distinct missions, both are important contributors to our society. This is why I believe that the politicization of every aspect of public life, including commercial organizations and cultural institutions, is not productive or healthy.

More than ten years ago, I became involved with the Whitney because I believe its mission is bigger than any one person and that creating a safe space for artists and expression is critical. Let me be clear that my commitment to that mission is unwavering, and I am grateful for the support recently expressed by the Board of Trustees. My involvement with the Whitney also reflects my personal values around diversity, inclusion, access and equality. In fact, just last month, I co-organized a series of exhibitions, installations and public programs at Brown University entitled “On Protest, Art & Activism”. I believe that my record speaks for itself, both with regard to my philanthropic activities as well as the businesses and institutions that I associate with.

My hope is that providing facts about Safariland, and the vital products it produces for public safety professionals worldwide, can lead to a more informed and constructive dialogue as we move forward together.

Warren B. Kanders

It is time to put your ambitions aside and fight for Rome

October 30, 2018

The Macro museum (Rome’s dedicated contemporary art museum) has since September 30th been run by Giorgio de Finis, after a 5 year period with no appointed director. De Finis’s appointment has been controversial for two principle reasons. Firstly he was appointed by the 5 star movement governed council of Rome without an open call (in keeping with the policy whereby the mayor elects museum directors). Secondly, he is operating a completely open policy: anyone can show there. The art and news media have been openly hostile to him and the museum. Critic and curator Mike Watson responds here to the ‘Macro Asilo’s’ critics, among them Raffaele Gavarro and Massimiliano Tonelli, asking for unity against the far right.

 

Robert Pettena, Ignazio Giordano, Valeria Rugi, Francesca Sandroni,
Live Performance. Grotesque Games, photo by Robert Pettena, 2018

 

To the Macro’s critics:

I cannot be quiet longer. Having had experience as a critic and curator at the Macro in 2012, 2013 and 2018, and having written over 100 texts on Italian contemporary art for major publications, as well as having curated at several Italian galleries and foundations and at the Biennale di Venezia and Palermo Manifesta, I feel I need to weigh in on the debate around the Macro Asilo, not least as it is a useless distraction at a crucial time. So here is a response following Raffaele Gavarro’s Artribune text, ‘Il Macro Asilo e la politica italiana e romana’, the latest among many made by a group of critics and curators critical of the Macro.

I will write in English for clarity and as I no longer live in Italy. I am sure you will follow me fine. I of course can see why you (Tonelli, Gavarro, Vedevotto) and many others are criticising the Macro Asilo project, including the way in which Giorgio de Finis was chosen without an open call as director of Rome’s municipal museum. I know some among you have for years fought for an open call appointment of a new director. Though I disagree with you, both in your reasoning and methodological approach to politics within the art world. Let me firstly remind you that while the former director, Pietromarchi, was sympathetic to an open call for a new director which would take place some time during his tenure, he never actually set a date for that call. He also intended to run as a candidate in the open call. That is to say he intended to apply for his own job. And we can assume that a man who has gone from the Maxxi to the Macro and back to the Maxxi, and who has also curated the Italian pavilion of the biennale would have won his own open call, if he had not been ousted by Sindaco Marino’s giunta before it could take place. So the situation prior to De Finis was never really more likely to bring a genuinely open appointment.

Aside from this, let us be realistic about what an open call means in Italy, and perhaps in many countries. Open calls tend to favor people already in the art system, who are know to the panelists who judge the call. In Rome, where people tend to gain work positions through a nepotistic favour system, the idea of an open call is particularly naive. Though if any of you have a way of making a call genuinely open, I would be interested to hear it. Until then, lets be clear that the Maxxi’s open call, which resulted in the appointment of Hanru, has hardly made the Maxxi an open and democratic cultural center. Hanru has to answer to a number of permanent curators who no one appointed, and is now himself working alongside Pietromarchi… not a good situation for Italy’s national modern and contemporary art museum.

So if we really look at Italy and the recent history of appointments in Rome, the appointment of Giorgio de Finis is not in itself unusual, and in no way worse than what has passed before, not least as he is offering a space in which ANYONE CAN DO ANYTHING. As such his museum is really the most ‘open’ one can conceive of. You may have your doubts about this format, though what it effectively achieves is that it goes one step further than the open appointment of a director, by making the entire museum a tabula rasa. You are complaining about the lack of an open call, when the entire museum is now open.

Now hold that idea in mind, while I now consider the irresponsible charge that the Macro Asilo is a reflection of the political situation today, and more particularly (as Massimiliano Tonelli has reflected) of ‘populism’. Firstly, the term populism itself is very hard to define. In essence it means government for the people, or a politics designed to appeal to the masses. However, it has come to mean a form of right wing politics that plays on people’s fear. Whilst I can see how we could define the Macro Asilo as populist in the sense that it ‘is a museum for the people’, it is not in any sense populist in the right wing sense of a popular government that rules by exploiting people’s anxiety, and it is irresponsible to suggest that the Macro Asilo is in any way linked to this pernicious form of government. Similarly, while the Macro Asilo’s management may reflect some of the horizontalizing practices of the 5* movement, it does not reflect the racism of some of its political partners. Given this confusion, I think it is much more useful to see the Macro Asilo as historically inspired by the avant-gardes of the 20th century. It clearly follows in the line of Duchamp and Beuys… i.e. it takes one step further the democratisation of the arts such that anyone can make art from anything AND EXHIBIT IT. Now, I absolutely fail to see how such an approach can be compared to the political populism of Raggi or Di Maio or Salvini, because De Finis is offering a platform for everyone whereas the 5*-Lega coalition is dividing people. I would even go so far as to say that the Macro Asilo is the largest and most open presence opposed to Salvini’s hateful rhetoric that exists in Rome today.

Contrary to what Raffaele Gavarro states in his text Il Macro Asilo e la politica italiana e romana, the Macro precisely is assuming a ‘posizione critica di fronte al potere’ (which Gavarro calls for)… and not only to the current powers that govern Rome and Italy, but to POWER ITSELF, as it rejects hierarchy via its openness.

This brings me to my final point, which is that Rome and Italy now face a severe threat of a continued shift towards a politics of cruelty and exclusion, which has disturbing parallels with the government of Mussolini. You as educated arts professionals don’t need telling that his government, amongst other things, colluded with the Nazis in deporting Jews, gays and political dissidents to death camps. It is that same strand of politics which are confronting in its early form, and it is that which needs a response now from the art world. I would urge anyone of the left – and anyone from the right who opposes the inhumanity of Salvini and of historical fascism – to stop fighting over the directorship of the Macro and to accept the generosity of an open museum for all, so as to use the space to rethink Italy’s future, whatever your political background is.

You all need to focus your anger at the spacciatori, the mafia who profit from heroin, the racist policies of the current government, the corruption of public life, and the degradation of Rome. Instead you are attacking the man most well known for openness to foreigners in the Roman art world. And you are impeding a project that could give a voice to everyone. It is time to put your ambitions aside and fight for Rome.

Mike Watson

This is (Not) a Love Song – A people’s tribunal in four acts on precarious work and life discussing wage, love, freedom & risk (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

September 9, 2018

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As artists, designers, writers, critics and other cultural workers we have to deal with a lot of flexibility in our everyday life. The work we do in the creative industries is based on our capacity as individuals and on an independent status, making professional relations often tied to an emotional context where the boundaries between life and profession are blurred. Our work is based on our ability to invest ourselves personally – to love what you do, to seduce, to adapt – and to rely on yourself.

This Is Not A Love Song is a People’s Tribunal addressing the issues relating to precarious work and life conditions taking place on October 11th, in Amsterdam. It sets out to discuss precarity within the arts and beyond in light of current neoliberal tendencies that inform today’s highly flexible, insecure and meritocratic employment model, the logic of which is particularly present in the Netherlands. We will address precarious labor as the predominant working condition in the creative industries, which often translates into unpaid work, short-term contracts or no-contract work or internships, insecure and unstable work and life conditions, individual competition, deprivation of rights and status, reinforced inequalities (class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality) – while promoting an insecure or flexible way of life as the privilege and freedom of making your own choices.

 The artist is easily understood as a paradigm for the ideal worker: passionate about what they do and willing to forgo material wealth for the love of it.[1] This day aims to collectively diagnose how precarity thrives on this argument, how it exploits recognition and promotes the merits of individualistic behavior and competition over those of collectivity and solidarity – a model that is formulated as the blueprint for the future worker based on the artist’s capacity to rely on him or herself. In this respect, while precarious conditions are particularly poignant in the creative field, the discussion will tie into a more general debate on the changing conditions of work and life in an increasingly flexible, deregulated and privatized landscape that forces many more professional occupations into the liberal perspective of a more open relationship that confuses wage and love, freedom and risk.

This Is Not A Love Song is not a love song. It will play out as a People’s Tribunal where the issue will be discussed drawing on courtroom protocols such as shared testimonials, expert witnesses, a collective deliberation and the formulation of a  verdict. We will put specific focus on neoliberal thinking and how its core values affect this issue: Whereas liberalizing the economy allowed for more open terms and free-market policies in the course globalizing trade, today its ‘laissez-faire’ [2] philosophy characterizes many other types of relationships beyond that of economic ones; between governments, enterprises, institutions and individuals, all of which are under pressure to be more flexible and independent as well. In doing so neoliberal thinking normalizes attitudes towards work and the self, discourages collectivism in favor of individual freedom, and fundamentally challenges “what a relationship is”; by promoting the concept of individual autonomy over that of mutual responsibility. According to a recent article in The Guardian it should become clear how the neoliberal perspective ‘has been applied to all of society, until it has invaded the grit of our personal lives, and how the attitude of the salesman has become enmeshed in all modes of self-expression. ‘In short,’ The Guardian continues, ‘ “neoliberalism” is not simply a name for pro-market policies, or for the compromises with finance capitalism made by failing social democratic parties. It is a name for a premise that, quietly, has come to regulate all we practice and believe: that competition is the only legitimate organizing principle for human activity’. [3]

The debate will set out to examine this relational shift with regards to precarity as an institutionalized and systematically applied employment model that normalizes insecurity and instability and extorts unpaid labor and other exploitative forms of work that characterize its open, flexible and independent ways.

This Is Not A Love Song aims to discuss precarity first in order to share immediate working conditions that creative practitioners face on a day-to-day basis concretely and practically. Secondly, its role within larger socio-political developments will be deliberated in order shed light on its ideological underpinnings and its current application via institutional frames (cultural institutions, schools, legal frameworks, …) and open the door to how we could be part of a change.

The Precarious Workers Brigade, Training for Exploitation? Politicizing Employability and Reclaiming Educaction (London, Leipzig, Los Angeles: Journal of Aesthetics and Protest Press, 2017), 17

Sidney Fine. Laissez Faire and the General-Welfare State. (United States: The University of Michigan Press, 1964.)

3 Stephen Metcalf, ‘Neoliberalism: the idea that swallowed the world’, The Guardian, Aug 2017

 

Guests & Collaborators

We will welcome guest speakers or ‘expert witnesses’ to take the stand; The Precarious Workers Brigade, from the UK, Art Leaks, and Wages For Wages Against, from Switzerland, to share their knowledge on the issue, their experience in calling out in solidarity, in addressing institutions and peers and their tools for doing so. Also joining is artist and activist John Jordan and Isabelle Frémeaux from The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination who’s work merges the imagination of art and the radical engagement of activism. In addition, each of the four acts will include testimonials from different cultural workers, artists, institutions, and audience members. We urge you to contribute as well, in whatever form you find best to express your point of view or your experiences.

You can read more about how to contribute your testimonial here. We’re also excited to partner up with PUB Radio & Journal, and we’ll set up a temporary bookshop during the event with San Serriffe, offering great material on what is work and what is love to continue this debate with after the tribunal. In the meantime, you can have a look at a list that we’ve compiled of groups, books, publications and other platforms that deal with this issue here.

 

RSVP

To RSVP we’ve composed a brief anonymous questionnaire with some questions about work. To attend the tribunal we’d like you to fill it out. This process is anonymous and all information will be treated with care; we will use it to share a view of where we stand – and what needs to change. Thank you.If this got you thinking and eager to act, you can also contribute to the tribunal proceedings with your testimonial, more about this up here. Send it to lovesongs@notalovesong.org

Learn more at This Is (Not) A Love Song 

 

This Is Not A love Song is an initiative of Elise van Mourik, Rosa te Velde and Tiphanie Blanc. Graphic design by Miquel Hervás Gómez

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