Nearly one hundred demonstrators gathered at the Brooklyn Museum on Saturday afternoon to protest the museum’s alleged blind eye to issues of displacement, Rebecca McCarthy of Hyperallergic reports. Organized by the Decolonial Cultural Front and the Movement to Protect the People, the protest revolved around two exhibitions: “This Place” and “Agitprop!”
Curated by Frédéric Brenner, the photography exhibition titled “This Place” aims to explore “the complexity of Israel and the West Bank, as place and metaphor, through the eyes of twelve internationally acclaimed photographers.” Protesters claimed that the museum is guilty of “artwashing” the serious issues in Israel and Palestine and of promoting the agenda of activists and foundations that support the Israeli military and pro-occupation causes in Israel, since they partially funded the exhibition.
Playing on the name of the exhibition, activists occupying the museum held banners that read “Decolonize This Place” and “Displacement Destroys Culture” before they were told to leave by the NYPD, who arrived only fifteen minutes into the demonstration. “The days in which art and artists are instrumentalized to normalize oppression, displacement, and dispossession of any people are over,” a member of the Decolonial Cultural Front, Amin Husain, said.
Artists also called out museum director Anne Pasternak for downplaying the museum’s role in the gentrification of Brooklyn and the displacement of the borough’s residents of color. Last fall the Brooklyn Museum’s decision to host the “Brooklyn Real Estate Summit” was widely criticized by local groups. In response, the museum told activists that they would be able to exhibit works in the show “Agitprop!” The museum also agreed to host the “People’s Summit on Displacement and Gentrification.” However, on April 22 the museum switched the focus of the summit from displacement and gentrification to preservation and diversity.
One of the founders of the Movement to Protect the People, Alicia Boyd, said “Anne Pasternak had agreed to give us a space on the wall in ‘Agitprop!,’ as well as give us a weekend of programming. She then reduced it down to a day, a Sunday. You want to say that you’re supporting, then you want to control the voice. Then you want to control the message.”
In response to Saturday’s events, a museum spokesperson said, “While the museum does not take sides in any debate, we wholeheartedly stand for critical thinking, open conversation, free exchange of ideas, listening, and viewing issues from varying perspectives. We have always welcomed these conversations no matter how difficult, even polarizing, they may be. And we will continue to, as it is fundamental to our mission.”