Decolonize This Place Protests Israel-Focused Art Nonprofit

Hrag Vartanian reports at Hyperallergic that more than 120 protesters marched from Artists Space to the offices of Artis on Broadway last Friday night in Manhattan. The effort was intended to communicate their hope that the nonprofit Artis––which, according to its website, “broadens international awareness and understanding of contemporary visual art from Israel” but does not receive direct government funding from the Israeli government––would sign onto the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement as a pledge of their support for Palestinian artists and their rejection of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. The marchers gathered behind a red “Decolonize This Place” banner.

The protest was organized in conjunction with the collective MTL+, which has been in residence at Artists Space under the title Decolonize This Place since September. They singled out Artis in particular for their “artwashing” of the occupation of Palestinian Territories by Israel––the term has recently gained currency in other areas where the arts are perceived as a gentrifying force and muffler over political conflict and socioeconomic issues.

Members of the Illuminator group, who have participated in protests at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum, projected onto the building messages such as “Decolonize This Place” and “Stop artwashing settler colonialism.”

On November 17, NYU professor Andrew Ross and art critic and historian Yates McKee delivered to the Artis office a letter, signed by both Decolonize This Place and the MTL+ collective, asking the New York–based arts organization to sign onto BDS and explaining that doing so “will also send a positive message of support to artists and arts institutions within Israel who are aligned with Boycott from Within, and who are under sharp pressure from the increasingly repressive Ministry of Culture.” In an unpublished video considered part of the larger Decolonize This Place project, Ross told Artis executive director Yael Reinharz that he would appreciate if she read and reflected on the letter before responding. During the meeting when the letter was delivered, she explained the organization’s position and noted that they did once bring visitors to Ramallah, which is in the West Bank, but they have since discontinued that trip in favor of helping visitors to arrange their own transportation if they chose to visit. The group representing Decolonize This Place had not received a response from Artis by the time of the protest.