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The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Photo: Lauren Cavalli.

Military Veterans Call for MoMA to Divest from “Toxic Philanthropy”

Forty-five United States military veterans have banded together in support of the artists who are demanding the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and MoMA PS1 in New York divest from controversial donors who “profit from the suffering of others.”

The veterans are part of the Veteran Art Movement—a group of service members who use art as a means to cope with “endless war, militarism, and dehumanization.” On Monday, they sent an open letter to the institutions urging them to part ways with Leon Black, whose private equity firm owns the defense contractor Constellis Holdings, which was formerly Blackwater. Black is currently chair of MoMA’s board of trustees. 

“As veterans of the Gulf War and the ‘Global War on Terror,’ as well as working artists ourselves, this issue is very important to us,” the letter reads. “We acknowledge our own role in creating the conditions for ongoing death and turmoil in Iraq, and we continue to grapple with this reality through our art, activism, and lives. We take responsibility for our past actions and as such choose to stand in solidarity with Iraqi artists and all activists calling on MoMA PS1 to ‘take a truly radical position by divesting from any trustees and sources of funding that profit from the suffering of others.’”

The petition comes on the heels of a letter protesting the museums’ ties to Black that was signed by thirty-seven artists whose works are currently featured in the ​exhibition “Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991–2011​,” which is on view at MoMA PS1 until March 1, including Rasheed Araeen, Mona Hatoum, Hiwa K, Laura Poitras, Michael Rakowitz, Martha Rosler, and Nazar Yahyax. The veterans, the majority of whom served in Iraq between the years of 1991 and 2011, praised the artists for putting their “careers and reputations on the line.” They also urged the museums to distance themselves from Larry Fink, the CEO of Blackrock, which invests in private prisons.

“Such companies represent a domestic war against people of color and the poor. War and prison profiteering are intimately connected,” the veterans wrote. “The rampant privatization of the military and the prison system epitomize US militarism, prioritizing the profits of the few who make billions from war, tactical equipment, and mass incarceration, over the health, education, and well-being of the many.” 

The letter continues: “If MoMA truly celebrates ‘creativity, openness, tolerance and generosity,’ as stated in its mission, MoMA will recognize the hypocrisy in displaying the work of dispossessed peoples—Iraqis in this case—while continuing to profit, if indirectly, from the bloodshed and misery of those very people. . . . We are confident that MoMA will divest, and realign its values by extricating itself from all toxic philanthropy.”

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