Palestine, BLM and Boycott in the Arts
Robin D.G. Kelley
Jasbir K. Puar
"In recent years, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign has made significant headway in the United States despite intensive, and unconstitutional, efforts by pro-Israeli forces to stop its spread. In academia, the campaign has won endorsements from a number of professional associations, and is seriously debated within others. This year, Cornel West used the Democratic National Convention’s platform deliberations to publically amplify the claim for BDS, bringing the issue into the US election process. Meanwhile, the Movement for Black Lives declared its support for BDS in its official platform, drawing connections between the 49-year occupation of Palestine and the centuries-long subjugation of black people—a connection that rekindles internationalist, decolonial affinities from the past and provides a new level of moral legitimacy to BDS in the contemporary public sphere.
Yet, the artistic sector (from the visual arts to music, dance and architecture) has remained largely impervious to BDS. This is despite important work by small groups of artist-organizers and the inspiring example of those in other countries who have signed off with BDS, often by alluding to the role of the cultural boycott in delegitimizing apartheid in South Africa. In 2015, over 1,100 artists in the UK signed on to BDS as part of Artists for Palestine UK, pledging to accept neither professional invitations to Israel, nor funding, from any institutions linked to its government until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.
Why has BDS not taken off in the arts in this country? Palestine, BLM, and Boycott in the Arts will place writer and professor Robin D.G. Kelley in discussion with author and theorist Jasbir Puar as well as members of the artist-organizer collective MTL+ Amin Husain and Marz Saffore, questioning the cultural implications of BDS for art workers and across the struggle for black liberation. What are the obstacles and challenges faced by artists who would otherwise align themselves with the call from Palestinian civil society to support freedom and justice? How can the visibility and currency of artists and art institutions be leveraged to challenge the occupation? How can we support one another when activists, scholars, and artists affiliated with BDS are subjected to intimidation, harassment, and blacklisting? If boycott is the floor and not the ceiling, what can we learn from viewing the situation in the Middle East in parallel with the legacy of settler colonialism in the Americas? Can we, as artists, cultural producers and workers, embrace boycott in the arts as an act of solidarity and revolutionary love?"
Robin D. G. Kelley is the Gary B. Nash Professor of U.S. History University of California at Los Angeles. His books include Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times (Harvard University Press, 2012); Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (Free Press, 2009); Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (Beacon Press, 2002); Three Strikes: Miners, Musicians, Salesgirls, and the Fighting Spirit of Labor's Last Century, written collaboratively with Dana Frank and Howard Zinn (Beacon 2001); Yo' Mama's DisFunktional!: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America (Beacon Press, 1997); Race Rebels: Culture Politics and the Black Working Class (The Free Press, 1994); and Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression (University of North Carolina Press, 1990).
Jasbir K. Puar is Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University. She is the author of Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (Duke University Press, 2007) and of numerous articles in Gender, Place & Culture, Radical History Review, Socialist Review, Feminist Legal Studies, Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography, Feminist Studies and Signs. Her forthcoming monograph Affective Politics: States of Debility and Capacity (Duke University Press, 2016) takes up questions of disability in the context of theories of bodily assemblages that trouble intersectional identity frames.
Amin Husain is an artist and organizer with groups including MTL, Global Ultra Luxury Faction, Decolonial Cultural Front, and Direct Action Front for Palestine. With Nitasha Dhillon, he is currently completing On This Land (onthislandfilm.wordpress.com), a film about the Palestinian struggle.
Marz Saffore is a Black, queer visual artist/organizer. She received her B.A. in Studio Art; Film & Media Studies from University of Rochester. Now based in New York City, she is teaching undergraduate video production at NYU while completing a M.F.A. in Studio Art at NYU Steinhardt. She is a member of MTL+, the artist collective facilitating Decolonize This Place.
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
Palestine, BLM and Boycott in the Arts, 2016
To fight for a truly democratic, non-racist, humane, sustainable, economically viable, safe and secure world for the people of Palestine/Israel is merely to demand what we have been struggling to achieve in this country for decades. As long as the lives of Salem Khaleel Shamaly and Eric Garner and countless others can be snuffed out by the state or vigilantes for merely being rendered a criminal threat, then none of us are really free.
– Robin D.G. Kelley, “When the smoke clears in Gaza”