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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.


December 11, 2018

————-german below————-



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

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:

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:

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





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

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:

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.


  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,



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

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