Last Saturday hundreds of protesters entered the Brooklyn Museum to stage a demonstration highlighting the museum’s complicity in a number of issues related to displacement and colonization. The main target was the exhibition “This Place,” featuring photographs of the Occupied Territories, but the demonstration also denounced the museum’s cozy relationship with local real estate developers. Rebecca McCarthy has the full report at Hyperallergic, which is excerpted below:
The This Place exhibition was organized by photographer Frédéric Brenner, and it showcases the work of 11 well-known photographers, including Stephen Shore, Jeff Wall, Thomas Struth, and Josef Koudelka, who were all asked to take photographs of Israel and the occupied West Bank even though none of them had been to the region prior to the project. According to the New York Times, Brenner hoped the work would force the viewer to reckon with “the strangeness and otherness within ourselves,” and transcend politics to deal with Israel “as place and metaphor.”
A metaphor for what, is not clear? The language of the curatorial statement is carefully innocuous, to a point where it drowns in artspeak. There are no Israeli or Palestinian artists involved in the project, because, by Brenner’s own admission, no Palestinian artist would agree to participate—perhaps because “anger” was a disqualifying factor. “It was important to look at Israel without complacency but with compassion,” he told the Times. “I believe art has a power to address questions that an ideological perspective cannot.”
For many of those who attended the protests, the idea that you can remove politics from a piece and place like this comes off as naive at best. They explain that it is largely the photography of tourism, a lot of sweeping landscapes and Israeli settler families, posed in such a way that they look very suburban and safe (there is no prominent mention of the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands — a fact the US accepts — or the violence that accompanies the occupation). In one section, where visitors could leave notes on their impressions, someone named Kira wrote, “The themes that I see in the photographs is peace and enjoyment. All of them spoke to me b/c it looks like everyone is having a gr8 time and they all seem happy and at ease!” The action came after numerous protesters saw the exhibition and expressed frustration at the so-called “artwashing” of a serious issue under the guise of objectivity.
“This is an ideological exercise that instrumentalizes art and artists,” said Amin Husain. He pointed out that although the project goes out of its way to say that it received no government funding, the majority of the private donations came from individuals with track records of funding initiatives of the Israeli military and other problematic Israeli initiatives. The protesters told Hyperallergic that this action was a way to reclaim space, both in solidarity with the Palestinians and for Brooklyn artists, who feel the Museum is presenting a facade of activism while tacitly supporting gentrification.
Image via Hyperallergic.