We Await Your Response to the Call for a Decolonization Commission

Brooklyn Museum, We Await Your Response to the Call for a Decolonization Commission – Decolonize This Place via Hyperallergic, April 12, 2018

Last week, we issued a letter calling for the Brooklyn Museum to use the public anger surrounding its recent curatorial hiring decision as an opportunity to participate in forming a Decolonization Commission that would address deeply rooted injustices pertaining to the museum. These would include, among other things, the colonial history of the museum’s non-western holdings, the lack of diversity among its curatorial staff and executive leadership, the fact that the museum’s buildings sit on stolen land, and the museum’s role as an agent of gentrification in Brooklyn, which has been a long-standing grievance of community groups.

On Friday, the Brooklyn Museum issued its first official statement to the publicity crisis penned by director Anne Pasternak. It begins by noting that “we were deeply dismayed when the conversation about this appointment turned to personal attacks on this individual,” and goes on to affirm the leadership’s unequivocal support for the chosen candidate, who is praised for her educational credentials and “anticolonial approach to curating.” Not coincidentally, in our view, the statement was issued at the same time as the New York Times published an article on the controversy. That article directly bolstered the museum’s position while disregarding not only our call for a Decolonization Commission, but also the support and involvement of many Brooklyn community organizations, including Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network (BAN), Equality for Flatbush (E4F), and Movement to Protect the People (MTOPP).

[…] the Brooklyn Museum is out of touch with the communities at its own doorstep.

The tone of the museum’s statement is one of confidence and closure. It gives the impression that the dispute has been put to rest by the affirmation of institutional autonomy, sealed with scholarly authority. To us, however, the statement only confirms what many suspect, that the Brooklyn Museum is out of touch with the communities at its own doorstep.

To be clear, our aim was never to judge who is better trained in African art history, but to question the structural issues highlighted by the curatorial crisis. The Brooklyn Museum’s response dodges these issues by leaning heavily on the voice of Okwui Enwezor, a Nigerian-born curator who is also among the most influential figures in the global artworld. Enwezor’s voice is marshalled by the museum to confine the conversation to matters of scholarly qualification within the arts, and to defend the curatorial appointment. But with all due respect to Enwezor, the crisis currently enveloping the museum cannot be resolved by a deliberation between arts experts, regardless of their background. The controversy around the hire has now given way to public scrutiny of the foundations, the authority, and the governance of the art institution itself, and its accountability to the communities it claims to serve.

We belong to communities that are, at one and the same time, engaged in day-to-day struggles against settler-colonialism, white supremacy, patriarchal violence, police terror, mass incarceration, population displacement, deportation, economic precarity, and climate disaster. As Audre Lorde put it, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” That is why we embrace an intersectional approach and it is reflected in the proposal we have put before the museum.

The moment is long overdue for American museums to acknowledge how and why they have been built on occupied land and filled with plundered objects. Contemporary art institutions are not exempt–they can no longer disregard the well-documented evidence about the role they play in helping to elevate local rents and displace residential populations.

Of course, the Brooklyn Museum is hardly alone; the Brooklyn Academy of Music has also fuelled the engine of gentrification in downtown Brooklyn. So, too, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) conducted a curatorial search last year, and failed, once again, to generate an Indigenous hire at a time when that institution was being pressed hard, by Indigenous, African American, and anti-colonial groups, to undertake a long-overdue reexamination of its exhibits.

As our original letter pointed out, the details surrounding the Brooklyn Museum hire are only a gateway to the broader structural changes that New York City museums should be undertaking today. We took the occasion to lay out steps necessary to decolonize the institution. The museum’s response pointedly ignored these suggestions, focusing exclusively on its autonomous right to make appointments in the absence of undue public pressure. We believe that institutions should have that right (even though they often discreetly bend in response to demands from wealthy donors or trustees), but nothing is gained by assuming an overly defensive posture in responding to criticism. And, in this case, the decision to avoid any mention of the decolonial programs or the concerns about gentrification outlined in the letter suggest that the problem may lie higher in the chain of authority.

Again, the Brooklyn Museum is not alone in its shortcomings. For the past eighteen months, as part of a larger coalition, members of Decolonize This Place and NYC Stands with Standing Rock have been meeting with officials and curators at the AMNH about the need to revise the colonial framework of its exhibits. While the individuals on the other side of the table acknowledge the challenge and the need for an overhaul, the force of institutional inertia appears to overwhelm them. Yet, diverse institutions, including the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and the San Diego Museum of Man in the U.S., and others throughout this country and overseas, have taken significant steps on the road to decolonization. Why is New York — with its self-image of being ahead of the cultural curve — lagging so far behind?

Instead of sidestepping our call for a Decolonization Commission, we urge the leadership at the Brooklyn Museum to respond publicly and adequately to its substance. This is how cultural progress is made — through honest dialogue and commitment to follow through. For the record, we reproduce the substantive portion of the original call below.

The Decolonization Commission, which will include local stakeholders, would explore:

1) Territorial Acknowledgement of Indigenous land occupied by its buildings and giving material effect to such an acknowledgment in curatorial practices, programming, exhibitions, and day-to-day operations.

2) The deep diversification of curatorial staff and executive leadership whereby the lived experience of oppressions — including patriarchy, white supremacy, and poverty — are valued and factored in.

3) A decolonial inventory of colonial-era objects of both African and Indigenous people with a view to settling the long-pursued claims of reparations and repatriation.

4) An upgrade of working conditions and pay of ground staff — who are disproportionately employees of color — in security, food service, and janitorial divisions.

5) The replacement of Board president David Berliner and other trustees who are real estate tycoons with a broad cross-section of artists and community organizers.

6) The undertaking of a de-gentrification initiative to examine and mitigate the museum’s role in boosting land value and rents in the borough.

7) An institutional commitment to address the issues raised by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement in recognition of Brooklynites’ role in the settler movement in Palestine.

Now, as we await a more satisfactory response from the Brooklyn Museum, we are encouraging those who support our open letter to contact the following individuals to exert pressure:

Anne Pasternak, Director –
anne.pasternak@brooklynmuseum.org, (718) 501-6411

Sharon Matt Atkins, Chief Curatorial Director  – Sharon.Matt.Atkins@brooklynmuseum.org, (718) 638–5000 ext. 269

Katherine Block, Board of Trustee Liaison –
Katherine.Block@Brooklynmuseum.org, 718–638–5000 ext. 178

Also, share your concerns online on social media with hashtag #decolonizebrooklynmuseum and include handle @brooklynmuseum

Signatories:

Decolonize This Place

Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network (BAN)

Flower Lovers Against Corruption (FLAC)

Equality for Flatbush (E4F)

Movement to Protect the People (MTOPP)

Mi Casa No Es Su Casa: Illumination Against Gentrification

NYC Stands with Standing Rock

Black Youth Project 100

Eagle & Condor Community Center

Bronx Social Center

Chinatown Art Brigade

Dancing for Justice

El Salón

Free University-NYC

Global Ultra Luxury Faction (G.U.L.F.)

Occupy Museums

People’s Cultural Plan

Take Back The Bronx

W.A.G.E.

Your Curatorial Crisis is an Opportunity to Decolonize

Open Letter to the Brooklyn Museum: Your Curatorial Crisis is an Opportunity to Decolonize -Decolonize This Place – April 3, 2018

We don’t know all of the factors that went into the decision of Anne Pasternak and others to appoint a white woman (Kristen Windmuller-Luna) as the new chief curator of the Brooklyn Museum’s African collection. But no matter how one parses it, the appointment is simply not a good look in this day and age–especially on the part of a museum that prides itself on its relationships with the diverse communities of Brooklyn. What we have heard expressed is a sense of surprise, on the one hand, that this museum of all museums would make such a tone-deaf decision, and, on the other, the realization that the decision is not a surprise at all given the pervasive structures of white supremacy in the art field. So, what will the Brooklyn Museum do now?

We expect the museum to take extraordinary measures to address the public concern surrounding this specific hiring decision, and, in doing so, to resist falling back on the default criterion of Ivy-League expertise that by its very nature is biased towards white scholars. But we also believe that the current crisis calls for a more wide-ranging, structural response. We are thus calling for the Brooklyn Museum to participate in the creation of a Decolonization Commission of the kind that has recently been demanded of institutions — like the city’s own American Museum of Natural History — that are being publicly asked to account for their own role in the histories of colonialism and white supremacy. This would send a strong message to the people of Brooklyn, and to other art institutions around the country, about the museum’s will to redress ongoing legacies of oppression, especially when it comes to the status of African art and culture. It could be a first step in rebuilding trust with the communities to whom the museum should be accountable.

The gathering crisis cannot be confined to rectifying a single misstep in recruitment. It reflects deeper structural flaws within this museum’s culture in particular and in the field, more generally. Museum officials need to look beyond demographic diversification per se, notwithstanding the dismal rates of representation of Black people and other communities of color in higher-rank positions within cultural institutions. Ultimately, the situation calls for a decolonial approach that goes to the root and branch of the museum’s institutional culture and sense of historical mission. Why are colonial legacies still informing its fundamental operations? A time of reckoning with these legacies is long overdue, along with a willingness to embrace new modes of accountability.

The hue and cry over this hire has brought to light a major disconnect between the governance of the museum and the communities of Brooklyn whom the institution is obliged to serve. Unlike other city museums that are more unabashed in catering to the global tourist trade, the Brooklyn Museum has recently provided evidence of a desire to live up to these obligations. Last year, Rujeko Hockley and Catherine Morris of the Elizabeth Sackler Center for Feminist Art mounted the groundbreaking exhibition We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-1985. What if the spirit of this extraordinary show was extended to inform the actual structure and governance of the museum itself? The resulting changes in the institutional culture would not only be welcome in their own right, but they would also most certainly preempt any repeat of the current debacle, where the museum is expending time and energy doing damage-control around the bad optics of hiring a white woman to curate the African collection.

But shows like We Wanted a Revolution are the exception to the rule, and the current commotion around the Africanist hire is only the latest controversy about the disjunct between the institution and the public on its doorstep. In 2016, the museum mounted the exhibition Agitprop!, devoted to radical art and activism over the past century. At the very same time, it was playing host to the Brooklyn Real Estate Summit, at which leading property corporations strategized about how to best identify new frontiers of investment in the borough. The President and Chief Operating Officer of the museum is David Berliner, a top executive at Forest Ratner, notorious for the Atlantic Yards project which kicked off the intensive gentrification of downtown Brooklyn in the early 2000s. The museum also provided cover for pro-Israeli artwashing in the exhibition of the lavishly-funded This Place photography showIn fact, it was the conjunction of these two examples of artwashing that inspired the formation of Decolonize this Place, an arts-activist collective that has focused much of its energies on actions devoted to the decolonial overhaul of New York City museums.

The analysis and practice developed in these actions suggests a more comprehensive response to the clamor surrounding the museum’s curatorial hire. We believe that this moment presents an opportunity for the museum to review — and fully acknowledge — its fraught history of acquisition, exhibition, staffing, and self-presentation with a view to reconstructing its operations, both internal and public-facing. We have presented the American Museum of Natural History with a similar proposition, following the Anti-Columbus Day Tours of 2016 and 2017, and in the recent campaign to remove odious public monuments, including the Theodore Roosevelt statue that disgraces its entrance.

This decolonization process would have a time-frame, starting with the acknowledgment that the buildings sit on stolen indigenous land, that they contain thousands of objects expropriated from people of color around the world[…]

This decolonization process would have a time-frame, starting with the acknowledgment that the buildings sit on stolen indigenous land, that they contain thousands of objects expropriated from people of color around the world, and that the institution is governed by a group of majority-white members of the 1% actively involved in the dynamics of racialized dispossession and displacement in Brooklyn. Further steps would entail decisions about the framing of the display of its collection; who is appointed to make these decisions, and in consultation with which communities of conscience in the borough and beyond. Decolonization is never a finished process, but, once undertaken, its logic can and should unfold in ways that are transparent and just.

No doubt, museum officials will be apprehensive about this larger proposition–the leadership of the American Museum of Natural History appears to have adopted a siege mentality in response–and yet there is every reason to grasp the opportunity to embrace it. The Brooklyn Museum can turn this loss of face into a far-reaching commitment to make museological history in a borough heralded — worldwide — for its innovative initiatives and ethos of inclusion. 

In this spirit, we propose the following:

The Decolonization Commission, which will include local stakeholders, would explore:

 1) Territorial Acknowledgement of Indigenous land occupied by its buildings and giving material effect to such an acknowledgment in curatorial practices, programming, exhibitions, and day-to-day operations.

2) The deep diversification of curatorial staff and executive leadership whereby the lived experience of oppressions —  including patriarchy, white supremacy, and poverty — are valued and factored in.

3) A decolonial inventory of colonial-era objects of both African and Indigenous people with a view to settling the long-pursued claims of reparations and repatriation.

4) An upgrade of working conditions and pay of ground staff —  who are disproportionately employees of color — in security, food service, and janitorial divisions. 

5) The replacement of Board president David Berliner and other trustees who are real estate tycoons with a broad cross-section of artists and community organizers.

 6) The undertaking of a de-gentrification initiative to examine and mitigate the museum’s role in boosting land value and rents in the borough.

7) An institutional commitment to address the issues raised by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement in recognition of the debate among Brooklynites about the central role played by segments of the borough’s population in the settler movement in Palestine.

Initiated by:

Decolonize This Place

And supported by:

Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network (BAN)

Flower Lovers Against Corruption (FLAC)

Equality for Flatbush (E4F)

Movement to Protect the People (MTOPP)

Mi Casa No Es Su Casa: Illumination Against Gentrification

NYC Stands with Standing Rock

Black Youth Project 100

Chinatown Art Brigade

Bronx Social Center

Take Back The Bronx

Free University

The People’s Cultural Plan

W.A.G.E. (Working Artists and the Greater Economy)

Jews for Palestinian Right of Return

Labor for Palestine

ZEAL (Zeal Press)

Berlin Bites Back!

Anti-Gentrification protest and defense of 91 Rigaer housing in Berlin, July 10, 2016

Anti-Gentrification protest and defense of 94 Rigaer strasse housing in Berlin, July 10, 2016

This is how ‪#‎Berlin‬ folks ‪#‎BITEBACK‬ ‪#‎Gentrification‬!!! Lesson for all Black and Brown communities–––from ‪#‎NewYork‬ ‪#‎Brooklyn‬, ‪#‎Bronx‬, ‪#‎Queens‬ to‪#‎LosAngeles‬ ‪#‎SanFrancisco‬ ‪#‎SanDiego‬ and so on…

 

Berlin riot: 123 police injured in anti-gentrification protest

10 July 2016 – Europe BBC News
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36758686

Police in Berlin say 123 officers were injured in clashes with leftist protesters over the redevelopment of a district in the east of the city.

About 3,500 protesters marched through Friedrichshain on Saturday. Some were masked and threw missiles, police said.
The protest was the most violent in the past five years, they said. Tensions have risen since moves began in June to evict squatters in the area. Friedrichshain has undergone rapid gentrification in recent years. About 1,800 police were deployed at the protest, which began peacefully but escalated into violence. Eighty-six people were arrested, police said.

Squatters are refusing to leave part of a block of flats at 94 Rigaer Strasse. Since June, squads of police have been monitoring the building day and night, with helicopters circling overhead. Police fired tear gas as shop windows were shattered and police cars damaged. Many of the neighbours live in housing collectives and sympathise with the squatters, who see themselves as a left-wing alternative to gentrification and rising rents.

During the protest, some neighbours beat spoons against pots in support of the squatters.

Rigaer 94 on Squat.net
https://rigaer94.squat.net

East L.A. Bites Back!

Defend Boylan Heights Community Accountabilty protest local gallery against gentrification.

Defend Boyle Heights Community Accountability protest local galleries against gentrification.

This is how Los Angeles Brown Berets new youth ‪Bite Back! in ‎East Los Angeles – Defend Boyle Heights against gentrification! Click the image above for the video. More info below on how to support Defend Boyle Heights!

communique July 2, 2o16. 6:41pm (LIVE):

Defend Boyle Heights Community Accountability

Self Help, what are you doing to stop gentrification in our community?

Tell your friends over at the galleries that the community has spoken: We don’t need any more art galleries. We want jobs and housing!

What galleries, you ask?
Chimento Contemporary 622 s. Anderson
Venus over LA 601 S. Anderson
Museum as Retail Space 649 S. Anderson
Nicodim 571 S. Anderson
Corey Helford Gallery 573 S. Anderson
Parrasch Heijen Gallery 1326 s. Boyle
Little Big Man Gallery 1427 E. 4th 1st
Maccarone 300 S. Mission
Ooga Booga 365 s. Mission
Pssst Gallery
Journal Gallery 347 s. Clarence 1st.

Support and share posts from Defend Boylan Heights on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/defendboyleheights/