"Each of these art-affiliated collectives has targeted powerful institutions, and in particular museums, on the basis of climate justice, global wage workers, and indigenous struggle for dignity and sovereignty. In different ways these groups have pushed for museums to be more responsible to people rather than to funders, and to the mission they themselves claim to be furthering. The equilibrium to these struggles is simple: museums must publicly commit to socially responsible policies and positions.
As the art world is pulled further into the realm of ultra-luxury speculation, the social and ecological costs of this are distributed unevenly. In this moment of crisis and rupture worldwide there is no space for museums and cultural institutions to claim neutrality. Institutions, whether public or private, should not be trading on low wages and free labor or taking money from the oil industry.
Yet when decolonization is demanded as a political imperative the challenge to museums goes further. The rearrangement of relationships and the decentering of whiteness become prerequisite to a new culture of curating and exhibiting. Given the deep legacy of colonialism and white supremacy, how should museums spatially and conceptually re-classify their collections? Who generates the knowledge on which these classifications are built? What kind of action and organizing are required to transform the powerful institutions that occupy the top tier of the exhibitionary sector?
Liberate Tate and G.U.L.F. were both formed to mount pressure upon specific museums. Meanwhile, indigenous activists from NYC Stands With Standing Rock Collective are making renewed, action-led demands on the existing power structures that allocate European artifacts to art museums while the art and culture of colonized peoples is exhibited in natural history museums. The face off over indigenous sovereignty at Standing Rock is likewise a call to bring land and water justice into the heart of climate activism, and to make this central to cultural production.
In bringing these three groups into conversation, Decolonize This Place will attempt to lay the groundwork for a new phase of organizing and action aimed at museums and other large cultural institutions. Through this, struggles for global worker rights and ecological justice will be viewed as inextricable with those for the repatriation of land."
Global Ultra Luxury Faction (G.U.L.F.) is the autonomous direct action wing of Gulf Labor Coalition, a group of international artists and writers working to ensure that migrant worker rights are protected during the construction of museums on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. Formed in 2010, Gulf Labor has pioneered actions involving museum occupation and published a book of essays tracing their initiatives, The Gulf: High Culture/Hard Labor (OR Books, 2015).
Liberate Tate is a network dedicated to taking creative disobedience against Tate until it drops its oil company funding. The network was founded during a workshop in January 2010 on art and activism, commissioned by Tate. When Tate curators tried to censor the workshop from making interventions against Tate sponsors, even though none had been planned, the incensed participants decided to continue their work together beyond the workshop and set up Liberate Tate. The collective continues its work through performances, lectures and institutional interventions.
The NYC Stands for Standing Rock Collective is a group of indigenous scholars, activists, and settler/people of color supporters working in solidarity with a range of indigenous peoples and nations, which include but are not limited to: Tlingit, Haudenosaunee, Secwepemc, St'at'imc, Creek (Muscogee), Anishinaabe, Peoria, Diné, Maya Kaqchikel, and Quechua. The committee supports the Standing Rock Sioux in their continued assertion of sovereignty over their traditional territories. NYC Stands for Standing Rock welcomes the participation of allied environmental groups and community-based justice organizations in the New York area.
This conversation is part of Decolonize This Place, a three-month project by MTL+ on invitation of Common Practice New York hosted at Artists Space Books & Talks. For the purposes of this project, 55 Walker Street has been converted by MTL+ into an action-oriented community space around the issues of: De-Gentrification, Indigenous Struggle, Black Liberation, Free Palestine and Global Wage Workers. Views and opinions expressed in this project are not necessarily those of Artists Space or members of Common Practice New York.
MTL+ is a collective of artists and organizers comprised of Nitasha Dhillon, Amin Husain, Yates McKee, Andrew Ross, Kyle Goen, Amy Weng, Aiko Maya Roudette, Marz Saffore and Samer Abulaela
Gulf Labor action at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, March 29, 2014
Image courtesy Global Ultra Luxury Faction/Gulf Labor
Human Cost, 2011
Photo: Amy Scaife