Protesters Occupy Brooklyn Museum Atrium, Demanding Decolonization Commission Favorite 



Apr 29 2018


Brooklyn Museum

On Sunday, April 29, dozens of protesters occupied the Beaux-Arts Court at the Brooklyn Museum as they reiterated demands for a decolonization commission, about which the art institution has remained silent. The calls for the commission come after the criticisms that followed the appointment of two white curators to the museum, including in the field of African art.

Protesters from 20 grassroots groups, including the American Indian Community House — the latest organization to join a broad coalition pressuring the museum to create a decolonization commission — descended on the large Beaux-Arts Court. The protesters dropped three banners, held up signs, and invited the people who’d gathered to speak. Jive Poetic from the Insurgent Poets Society read a spoken word poem that addressed gentrification in Brooklyn.

Artist Shellyne Rodriguez of Take Back the Bronx was one of the protest organizers and helped lead the event. During the rally, protesters reiterated their list of demands, including “deep diversification” of museum staff, the removal of Board President David Berliner (who is connected to many real estate interests), a commitment from the museum to mitigate gentrification, and an acknowledgement of the full history of the museum’s holdings while including a land acknowledgement that would highlight the fact that the institution was built on indigenous land.

“The museum wants our art, our culture, but not our people,” Rodriguez said during the gathering, echoing the beliefs of many critics of the museum, namely that art institutions want art by people of color but not their bodies speaking out or claiming space in the institution.

Artist Alicia Grullón spoke about her own difficult role as an artist invited to be part of the Radical Women programming at the museum and someone passionate about fighting gentrification. She cited a number of the Latina artists in the major exhibition currently at the museum who had their own contentious relationship to museums.

“They saw the contradiction of museums as rational public spaces when the world outside was anything but. They understood we are all still colonized in our minds and imaginations,” she said. “We are still undergoing the process of becoming human … art only gets better when people are valued.”

After Grullón’s passionate words, Rodriguez added: “Exhibitions are great but they are only cosmetic solidarity, it is about changing the day to day functioning of this museum … it is about acknowledging what is beyond the grounds and the power structures this organization coddles, and [how it] effects the communities around the museum.”

“We must understand gentrification for what it is, it is modern day colonialism,” Michael Higgins of Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network (BAN) said at the rally.

Sunday’s protest was the latest effort to bring the Brooklyn Museum and the neighboring Brooklyn Botanic Garden to the table to discuss issues of anti-gentrification and decolonization, while working to ensure that the institutions play positive roles in reflecting and protecting the diversity of the surrounding neighborhoods. Protesters were also concerned about the rezoning of areas around Prospect Park that would allow developers to build beyond the six- or seven-story height currently allowed in order to accommodate high-rise development.

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