Photo Credits: @sekondarylens Eddie Arroyo
Back in March 2021, a coalition of artists and activists planned a 10-week long series of various forms of protest against the leadership of the New York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Explaining their case, Strike MoMA directs attention to the chair of the museum’s board, billionaire, Leon Black who has financial links with, convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein. Pressured from outsider activists and board members, Black announced his plans to step down in March.
The International Imagination of Anti-National Anti-Imperialist Feelings (IIAAF) launched the campaign to Strike MoMA. Despite Black’s exit, the movement agrees the issue is the MoMA itself. Explained in the movement’s framework is the flaws of the MoMA: ‘The museum is converted into a theatre of operations where our entwined movements of decolonization, abolition, anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism can find one another.’ The power of the elite to declare what is formally recognised as art by a respected institution can alienate the rest of society, particularly those unrecognised by hierarchical systems.
The weeks of protest spanned from the Guerrilla Girls’ rewriting their 1990 Code of Ethics for Art Museums, to infographics from Decolonize This Place on museums trustees funding the NY police, to in-depth conversations on modernity, public protests, marches, and letters.
Though the 10-week protests ended in June with a march of hundreds to the MoMA entrance, the attraction garnered has perpetuated conversations to change the elitism of the art world. Their online explanations show the connected struggle between various strata of society that are trodden on by absurdly wealthy elites. Museums contain to perpetuate a view of white, Western, and male superiority; epitomising all other art against the Italian Renaissance or modernism of Dali, Picasso, or Duchamp.
Museums present a narrative of history, by constantly omitting people of colour and presenting a story of imperial success, they are refusing to move history forward with the narratives of today that allow for critical thinking of the past. For art to be declared modern or contemporary, it becomes embedded in its context. The surge of BLM support last summer defined the links between society, politics, and culture. By exhibiting the experience of artists of colour, refugees, the working-class, Indigenous peoples, and the results of colonialism today, museums can aid in critically viewing history and presenting a modern view of the past. Allowing for representation in museum spaces and fair chances to exhibit will increase the audience of those who view art, being able to relate to a subject in a museum or feel moved in an art gallery by an artist who you can understand will speak directly to many viewers.
Their movement brings together with shared ideas and expierences, from BLM, to freeing Palestine, being part of a union or a worker, and creating art, these people come together to defend themselves as a powerful mass against oppressive institutions. Strike MoMA will place the community of artists at the centre of decisions of what is considered art today, instead of at the hands of distant elites.
Words by Caitlin Sahin