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The exhibition "Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991-2011" now at MOMA PS1 is in serious difficulty. After coming into conflict with the artist Michael Rakowitz, the New York museum is facing a compact group of 31 participating artists, who have signed a petition, asking for an explanation regarding the dubious relationships between some members of the MOMA PS1 board engaged in the sector of private detention institutions and contractors.

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The work titled Return by the American-Iraqi artist Michael Rakowitz (1973) is an ongoing project born in 2004 that it's still investigating the history of the Iraqi diaspora in the United States, together with the difficult integration for the Iraqi community in the city of New York. After the artist discovered of these contrast interests between the work message and museum board, Rakowitz has asked the curator to pause the video. “I’ve decided to press the pause button on my video, RETURN, so that we can discuss some recent events,” Rakowitz’s statement began. “I kindly request that Larry Fink and Leon Black please divest from these companies so that I may unpause my video and press play. If this is not possible, then I kindly ask that MoMA please divest from Larry Fink and Leon Black as trustees so that I may unpause my video and press play.”

 

Michael Rakowitz in front of his video installation RETURN (2004–) at MoMA PS1. Courtesy of the artist. Photo - Jillian Steinhauer. 

 

Moreover, it is important that large institutions shed light on some less visible aspects such as in the case of MomA, in which some members of the board including the name of Laurence Fink, CEO of BlackRock (the largest investment company in the world that it's also connected with companies dedicated to weapon's sale and the administration of private prisons, such as Fidelity Investments. The artist also mentioned Leon David Black, collector and president of MoMA, but also the founder of Apollo Global Management which has invested in Constellis, a company that offers "risk management services", namely contractors, that is companies of paid military personnel who often operate outside international war law.

 

As we can note by the artist's statement, Rakowitz has pointed out that it is not the artist who has to leave the museum, but people whose life conduct, in test and facts, openly conflicts with the attitudes of openness, dialogue, sincerity, harmony, proper to an institution of this kind. The museum in response has restarted the work, an action that did not go unnoticed by the 31 artists involved in the exhibition, who expressed their support on Rakowitz case and British artist Phil Collins retirement of the work  Baghdad Screentests, before the exhibition opening.

 

 

In the letter destined to MoMA and MoMA PS1 directors, the artists wrote «The war in Iraq did not end in 2011: it is still ongoing. In recent months, there have been protests nationwide against foreign interference and corruption, introduced through the invasion and occupation led by the United States. Security forces have killed more than 400 peaceful demonstrators since taking to the streets in October 2019. But this war has been invisible and far from the attention and concerns of most Americans. We appreciate the visibility this exhibition offers to the wars in Iraq and the work of Iraqi artists. However, we also want to make visible the connection between MOMA and the funds generated by companies and companies that profit directly from these wars ", The letter is signed among others by Dia al-Azzawi, Ali Eyal, Guerrilla Girls, Laura Poitras, Ali Eyal, Martha Rosler and Mona Hatoum. 

Cover image: MoMA PS1, Theatre of Operations- The Gulf Wars 1991-2011.

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