AN ARTIST'S POWERFUL LETTER FROM POST-HURRICANE PUERTO RICO
Yasmín Hernández is a Brooklyn-born and raised artist whose work is rooted in struggles for personal, political, and spiritual liberation. She explores these themes through her paintings and mixed-media works, portraits primarily, that weave storytelling through layered images, text, and calligraphy.
Hernández is also Puerto Rican and she was scheduled to be part of the Debt Fair panel at El Museo del Barrio in Manhattan on Saturday, October 14. She was unable to make it and instead sent a letter that shares her experience and appeals to other to help Puerto Rico. Hyperallergic has agreed to publish her statement in full here with little editing in order to maintain the author’s voice and because of the current realities on the island of Puerto Rico.
Occupy Museums, which organized the panel, has also released a statement in solidarity with Puerto Rico, and it is published below Hernández’s letter.
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Letter from Yasmín Hernández
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, my flight out of Puerto Rico was canceled. As a result, I missed a long anticipated meeting with the legendary bell hooks in Kentucky and lost my place at a healing justice retreat for artists and activists in Tennessee, to which I had received a scholarship. I have now canceled my rescheduled relief flight to NYC where I was to spend time with my mom in Brooklyn, help with hurricane relief and be present at this panel.
Having been born and raised in Brooklyn, in 2014, I answered a soul call to repatriate to my ancestral homeland of Borikén. My Queens-born and raised Colombian husband and I, and our two small boys made our home in Moca in the northwestern part of la Isla Grande. On Wednesday, September 20, 2017, still recovering from loss of power and water from Hurricane Irma, her sister hurricane Maria took an unexpected turn at the point it had been predicted to exit the island. Its center passed right above us, and its eye wall, with wind gusts of over 200 miles per hour, thrashed us twice. Our beloved Moca looks more like winter in Brooklyn. Trees left standing were seemingly punished for weathering the storm, stripped bare of their leaves, flowers, and fruit. They stand brown, broken, and brittle revealing homes, rivers, and roads once hidden within lush tropical landscapes. Our view of the green Jaicoa range of hills bares the brown earth lacerations carved by landslides.
I will spare you the details of our experience during the storm, its effect on our home, our family and community in an effort to focus on the topic at hand and because with limited access to news and communication, there is much we have heard but have not been able to confirm. Infrequent communication with the outside world brings atrocious accounts that might be true, though I haven’t seen any of these first hand. Since we have chosen to stay here through whatever this brings, we prefer to focus on the gestures of solidarity and love that we have witnessed. It seems the human tendency is to speak mostly of the tragedies while acts of heroic survival, including the sharing of resources and community building, go uncelebrated for the most part. For example, the morning after the storm our neighbors provided us with access to their generator which they turn on just a few hours every day. This has allowed us to provide fresh food and cold drinks for our children since the storm. It is the reason that I am able to charge a computer and type this statement, though I must still figure out an internet connection with which to send it. Another neighbor gave us her telephone when Claro was the first and only company with cell signal. She sent us out to an antenna in Aguadilla with her phone and that is how after 10 days I was finally able to call my mother and family in New York. Afterwards she had us drop the phone off at her Moca home where she waited for the municipio to install a tarp since she had lost half of her roof. These are the accounts we must circulate. These are my heroic, generous people whose selflessness fuels our commitment to stay.
Since arriving in Puerto Rico, my work explores nebulae to transcend the abyss of colonialism and oppression, to claim ancestral connection and to affirm our spiritual space in the cosmos. Moreover painting our ancestors in transparent layers of nebulae is how I combat the invisibility imposed by colonialism. In the spirit of the latter, I send this statement in my absence, having been rendered invisible yet again, this time by the (un)natural disaster of hurricanes unheard of, compounded by the complexities and contradictions of colonialism.
The difficult decision to not have boarded my flight this morning is testament to the often impossible intersection in which artists work — the intersection between inspiration, sustainability, struggle, and survival. To have the opportunity to escape to New York City for a few days, unable to secure plane tickets for my family until November, would have meant leaving them behind with no running water, no power, no communication. Eight years ago, I left my teaching artist positions with El Museo del Barrio and the Studio Museum in Harlem after birthing my first son. This fall, I was celebrating my return to a full-time artist practice, having recently resigned from a teaching position and enjoying that both of my sons are in school now. I began the fall with a commission that funded these trips that would mark that return to my full artist self. These two hurricanes have cost me my trips, these opportunities and my studio — dark for three weeks and counting — houses a commission unpainted. Our children attended school four days in the last month and a half. Classes were canceled for hurricane preparations or for lack of water and power in the aftermath of the storms. Semi-rural and rural communities like mine, already accustomed to losing light and water periodically, are threatened with the possibility of living without these services for months.
Yasmin Hernandez’s mural of Oscar Lopez Rivera with the Three Kings in San Sebastian, Puerto Rico
Instead of packing for this trip, I divided and packed six boxes of rations and three cases of water that arrived at our home yesterday from various sources. The boys look forward to packing these in the car and delivering them to folks we know need them. The last two boxes and a gallon of water were delivered by the mayor of Moca himself going door to door. It was a wonderful gesture except it arrived three weeks after the storm, consequently the day after US military planes circled above our home repeatedly before finally landing in el pueblo. What does three weeks mean to those with no access to a car or gas, no access to cash, no water, no food? Especially considering that parts of Puerto Rico had already been without water or light for two weeks after Hurricane Irma.
To say this has been an eventful year for Puerto Rico is an understatement. It opened up with las promesas a los Reyes, much like El Museo del Barrio’s Three Kings Day Parade. Some of these, like in the town of Hormigueros were dedicated to Oscar López Rivera, the Puerto Rican freedom fighter who was held as a political prisoner by the United States for 35 years. On Three Kings Day, which is also Oscar Lopez’ birthday, I received an email from Occupy Museums inviting me to participate in the Puerto Rico bundle of their Debt Fair installation at the 2017 Whitney Biennial. I set out to create a nebula piece in honor of this goddess island, this verde luz as described by Moca’s own Antonio Cabán Vale, el Topo. I included the words “De-Debt/ Decolonize,” along with an image of Oscar Lopez Rivera. The following week, it was announced that Obama had commuted his sentence. His release was scheduled for May 17. It is possible that as the exhibition opened up at the Whitney, no one had any idea who the face floating on the Puerto Rico nebula was. Not until he was listed as an honoree at New York’s Puerto Rican Day Parade and corporate parade sponsors began to withdraw from the event was Oscar Lopez Rivera regularly discussed throughout the mainstream media. There had also been US media blackouts in the previous weeks surrounding the paro nacional or national strike fighting the austerity measures of PROMESA as well as a months-long mass student strike protesting obscene budget cuts to the University of Puerto Rico system. Occupy Museums however made sure to include the UPR strike in an action they held around student debt at the Whitney Museum.
In the weeks leading to Oscar’s release, as I finished my final school year teaching at the school his sister founded in Aguadilla, I managed to complete a mural in his hometown of San Sebastian. His image appears alongside a rendering of a Santos de Palo carving of the Three Kings. This is my first outdoor mural since “Soldaderas,” my 2011 East Harlem mural of Frida Kahlo and Julia de Burgos. I call it “el Regalo de los Reyes” after the Julia de Burgos poem of the same title. An excerpt of this poem is included in the mural and is also featured in my Soldaderas mural in the shared red stripe of the Mexican and Puerto Rican flags. With all our two nations share in our cultural and artistic history, and our conflicted political tie to the US, today we share more in the solidarity of struggle, survival, and strength post-earthquake and post-hurricane.
No one is ever prepared for a natural disaster, but a natural disaster within an economy crippled by colonialism, an odious debt, and weak infrastructure is beyond disastrous. Employees already threatened with furloughs, days of no work to compensate for a failing economy, were left homeless by the storm. The Jones Act or la ley de cabotaje regulating all imported goods to arrive through US ports on US ships, reveals now more than ever the economic strangulation suffered by a colony. My abuelo used to say, no hay mal que por bien no venga (there is no misfortune that does not come with good reason). It seems like the warrior winds of change of the Yoruba orisha Oya, these sister hurricanes came to turn, change, and reveal things that no longer serve us, things kept hidden that must be overturned. Folks who cared not about Puerto Rico, its people or its political status are being made aware of what is happening. They are outraged and are demanding justice. The colonial theater crumbles under its own absurdity.
De-Debt: Decolonize. We cannot speak of art and debt in Puerto Rico without addressing colonialism. We cannot speak of what Puerto Rico owes and who they owe it to without considering the paralyzing changes imposed on Puerto Rico’s economy and unfolding since the US occupation in 1898. The introduction of an industrial economy is a moot point when it entirely replaces an agricultural economy, denying Puerto Rico its own capacity for self-sustenance, imposing the importation of 80% of its food products at inflated prices. Colonialism constructs failing economies because its existence relies on the dependency of its subjects. Colonies are designed to build wealth for the colonizers while maintaining the colonial order among the colonized. To speak of healthy economies and self-sufficiency in a colony is a contradiction unless it is tied to a dialogue on political self-determination and self-rule. Our approach must be a decolonial one that also extends to post-colonial and neo-colonial structures. That said, we cannot address these recent hurricanes’ crippling of the Caribbean without addressing the US militarism and business interests that have meddled in Caribbean affairs for over a century and the US consumerism that has rendered this region a mere playground for the privileged. We must eradicate the ignorant, pompous gaze that so many direct at the Caribbean, especially by those incapable of naming the islands, the languages they speak, or locating them on a map.
We cannot address the creative capabilities of artists in debt without addressing the lack of basic amenities available to enable inspiration to flow and manifest. We must first address an artist’s means of daily survival. Access to a roof over their heads literally as these storms turn the common, corrugated metal roof into flying shreds of aluminum foil. Despite the abundant rains of this season’s skies providing ample water for bathing, laundry, and bathroom needs, drinking water remains scarce. Access to power, a cold fridge to keep food fresh, the internet, telephone service, light to work with in the absence of daylight, to power tools and equipment are all basic necessities for an artist’s daily studio practice. These are also important to the survival and functionality of any person in today’s world. Access to childcare when schools have literally been closed for almost a month is another issue standing in the way of a person’s ability to work and earn a living. I remember how a snowstorm and a one-day shut down of the NYC subway system could paralyze the city, now imagine the sustained, perpetual reality of life without power or water. Consider this next time you flush the toilet, send a text or email, flip on the light switch, or grab a cold drink out the fridge. Consider driving one hour through rush hour with no traffic lights.
It becomes necessary to reverse the gaze, turning an eye away from Puerto Rico and the Caribbean and back at the US, even to Puerto Ricans and other communities of color based in the US. As participants of a US privileged economy, built on the exploitation of less privileged, marginalized communities, how might one be complicit in the current situation? How much effort is being invested daily in challenging for example la ley de cabotaje which catastrophically impacts the Puerto Rican economy, prices, and access to food daily beyond the storm. How are funds earned from working in the US being funneled back into Puerto Rico beyond an annual vacation? How can dollars of the American dream, some of that wealth built on tax free incentives for US corporations and the US wealthy in Puerto Rico be invested in Puerto Rico-based businesses, organizations, real estate? How is the Puerto Rican community participating in the art market, supporting their artists, purchasing their work? Are Puerto Rican and allied professionals and academics based in privileged institutions providing ample opportunities to Puerto Rican entrepreneurs and artists to provide talks, presentations, and residencies? How do we fight the commodification of water from Detroit to Standing Rock to Puerto Rico? How do we restore its status back to that of sacred survival versus a a political weapon in a bottle? Prior to the hurricanes there were two other disasters in Puerto Rico, the repeated dumping of tons of toxic ashes in Peñuelas, as well as the infrastructure disaster that resulted in Puerto Rico’s island-wide power outage last year.
The Puerto Rican left and their allies who have always spoken out against colonialism and injustice cannot be the only ones to carry the torch of peace, justice, and humanity. By turning a blind eye to the dehumanization and exploitation of our community in order to buy into the financial gains, we become complicit in said dehumanization and exploitation and sell our souls in the process. Holistically we can learn to refocus all of our organizing, our programming, our activism, our art, our thinking to be decolonial, to reject the supremacy of one group over another and to reject the internalizing of inferiority complexes that plagues many of our people even long after political independence has been secured.
In closing, I offer the words of James Baldwin, “We cannot be free until they are free.” Anyone’s enslavement, or oppression, equals the enslavement and oppression of us all.
In solidarity, love, light and liberation,
October 12, 2017
Moca, Puerto Rico
IN SOLIDARITY WITH PUERTO RICO: CANCEL COLONIAL DEBTS NOW!
September 2017. It was a month of sequential natural disasters that left multiple American cities underwater and in various states of crisis. Reflecting on the contrasting recovery outlook for two of them: Houston, and 1800 miles to the Southeast, San Juan Puerto Rico, we are brought to face with something extremely ugly: an American colonial legacy that is alive and well.
"Vulnerability is not simply a product of natural conditions; it is a political state and a colonial condition."[i]
In today’s world this condition can be summarized by a single word: debt. Puerto Rico owes 74 billion dollars to a consortium of vulture investors, hedge funds and bond holders.[ii] Like most colonies, the island has a long history of financial disempowerment wielded through the mechanisms of extractive loan terms, snowballing interest payments and tax breaks for corporations and the ultra-wealthy. Colonial debt is a thread that winds through history, connecting Puerto Rico’s past slavery-based sugar economy to the extractive financial economy of the present neoliberalism. Colonial debt is structural, concrete racism. It’s high time all colonial debt is considered odious.
Recently the US Congress enacted the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) Bill. It ceded widespread powers of governance to an undemocratically appointed group. Since the Promesa bill was enacted in June 2016, draconian decisions have been made that hold the public accountable for the irresponsible actions of the financial class, including, “cutting spending on public health by 30 percent, closing schools, and lowering the minimum wage for young people to a little over $4 an hour.”[iii] Since Promesa has been enacted,more than 150 schools have closed on the island.
As we know from the 2008 housing crisis, debt is primarily a tool of power; a game in which the financial elites win every time. 2008 taught us that financial giants like Goldman Sachs who take on risk stand to lose little in the end; in fact the inevitable crisis helps them by killing off competitors and socializing loss. On the other side of the equation, historically disempowered people like Puerto Rican children see their schools and hospitals concretely shut down. It’s not surprising that a hedge fund that has been deeply involved in Puerto Rico, Stone Lion, was founded by the equity chiefs at Bear Stearns: players at the epicenter of the 2008 collapse in which no one was held accountable except millions of individual citizens - a pattern set to play out again with Promesa.[iv]
Meanwhile, the biggest players of the financial markets such as shadow bank Blackrock Inc is a heavy investor. This is the mega-firm that Occupy Museums focused on in our Debtfair project at the Whitney Biennial. Blackrock has ballooned to 4.7 trillion of managed assets since 2008 mirroring the exponential enrichment of elites during economic crisis worldwide. So we must be clear: Puerto Rico is next.
"I think tomorrow the island will develop into the Singapore of the Caribbean."[iii]
‘“One reason I came here is I thought it hit bottom. In a democracy, you really need a crisis to bring about change,’ says Tennebaum, a former Bear Stearns executive. He is in the process of building a home on the island and starting a merchant bank.” - Michael Tennenbaum
But this all reads like old news now. Then came Irma and Maria, knocking out much of the island’s infrastructure setting it back “nearly 20 to 30 years.”[v] The climate change-fueled super-storm means massive capital is needed to rescue and rebuild the island - capital attached to austerity and privatization. In New Orleans following Katrina, this rush of capital with ideological strings attached ultimately left the city without public schools and incentivized displacement of its own citizens, remaking the city in a whiter image.
We are witnessing the pairing of debt and crisis to serve the neoliberal goal of extreme privatization around the world: from the selling off of public land in Greece to water in Detroit. It’s time to call this what it is: colonial extraction. To echo the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz “you don't put debt above people, you put people above debt.”
Occupy Museums joins the many voices calling for a complete cancellation of colonial debts and the anti-democratic agenda of Promesa. Our group is inspired by activists who have long connected politics and culture such as the Young Lords in New York. We join this call in solidarity with the long struggles of the Puerto Rican people and especially the artists we have collaborated with in Debtfair for the last year.
For too long, the arts and culture industry has become a civic front for the violence and extraction of the finance industry. The same sharks destroying entire economies are shamelessly heralded for their ‘stewardship’ as a blind eye is turned toward the havoc they wreak on millions around the world. If cultural institutions want to face in the direction of greater equality and decolonial and anti-racist justice they must divest themselves from the financial colonists of Puerto Rico: MassMutual, Oppenheimer Funds, Goldman Sachs, Franklin Resources, and UBS, the financial sponsors of the Basel Art Fairs and the third largest mutual fund holder of Puerto Rican debt. MoMA’s feted board member Larry Fink is CEO of Blackrock, the world’s greatest single engine of debt extraction. Until he is kicked off the board, the museum stands on the wrong side of Puerto Rico’s crisis and the programmed crises to come.
Cancel Puerto Rico’s colonial debts now!
Fire the Promesa oversight board - Real democracy now!
Viva Puerto Rico!
October 14, 2017
[i] Professor Yarimar Bonilla:
[v] according to Resident Commissioner Jennifer Gonzalez https://newrepublic.com/minutes/144985/us-government-fails-puerto-rico-again
COUNTER-COMMENCEMENT DEBTOR'S CEREMONY AT THE WHITNEY MUSEUM
7:30-9 PM May 5, 2017
Whitney Museum of American Art, 5th floor
Please join us for this autonomous event
What does commencement mean for artists in the billionaire feeding frenzy of the Trump era? Commencement symbolizes the entry of studied, curious individuals into a world that they have been prepared to influence and impact. But what is this world into which graduates are entering today, and what impact can they have amid a reactionary crackdown on art and cultural difference, saddled with backbreaking amounts of debt? These are the questions that tens of thousands of new art school graduates and hundreds of thousands of American artists are asking this spring. We cannot accept what appears to be offered: A mass competition for the few available court painter positions as democracy unravels and less privileged citizens come under threat.
This is a painful moment. We are caught between the clubs of budding Fascism and the nearly inescapable glass grip of Financialization. For most artists, echoing much of the US workforce, the price of entry into the Art World is massive debt. That means an intimate and legally disempowered relationship with financial corporations like JP Morgan Chase, Banco Popular, and Navient Corporation that work against their borrowers while enriching the 1%.
In this moment, as this system reaches a fever pitch, we propose a Counter-Commencement Debtors Ceremony at the Whitney Museum. A community of artists usually invisible to the museum will step out of the shadows and attempt to claim their place in and democratize the museum. This is an unsanctioned action related to a platform called Debtfair, which is currently installed in the museum.
The economic contrasts stemming from class division among artists in the US will be on full display on May 5. May 5 is the first day of Frieze Art Fair: the pop-up luxury enclave on Randall’s Island that is Bloomberg’s vision for New York come-to-life as a million dollar minute of the city’s cultural clock. The work in Frieze is supposed to be valuable. We say that this value is predicated on the majority of art being framed as surplus.
Debt manifestos at the Counter-Commencement Ceremony will include representatives of students currently on strike in Puerto Rico, artists caught in debt spirals promoted by Chase Bank and Navient Corporation, and a manifesto from the 2018 class of Columbia University––one of the schools most heavily represented among artists of the Biennial and a pipeline into the Art World. The current cost of obtaining an MFA at Columbia University is nearly $60,000 per year for tuition alone.
Occupy Museums has asked nearly 9,000 visitors to the Whitney Museum: Are there conditions under which you would support a debt strike to demand better deals from the banks?
Less than 10% have said “no”.
Resistance against Trump depends on a Debt Justice Movement.
Since 2008, the upward mobility of the middle classes, known as the American Dream, has fallen into rubble. But it was already known that the Dream never was close to a universal reality because the slave economy that built this nation did not care about the dreams and financialized the lives of many Americans, and not much has changed today. Today, neoliberalism, slavery’s economic heir, continues the logic of extraction. Union jobs were retooled as precarious work, funneling profits directly into Silicon Valley and Wall Street. This is the world into which students are graduating in 2017.
But now the hour seems almost too late to call out neoliberalism. Recently, we’ve seen a political turn toward hyper capitalistic nationalism that has found an even more cynical use for the American Dream: It is wielded as rhetorical entitlement deserved only by white Americans, an entitlement that can be disbursed only when large populations who are not white are variously forgotten, targeted, ejected, killed. The American Dream today is a wedge used to divide, confuse, and enrage people, obscuring a quiet counter-revolution that is taking shape as a takeover of all levers of power by billionaires. Their usurpation of power depends on the withering away of democratic institutions such as schools and libraries. The Art World is a comfort zone for many of these billionaires. This is the counter-revolution of the Collector Class.
The Collector Class seeks the wholescale annexation of our space and time. They are remaking neighborhoods into branded real estate-culture packages. The high-tech debt-based economy converts people’s time into fixed-income assets. All of this becomes capital whose form can only flow up to the top of the pyramid. In this equation, art that does not perform the function of luxury asset gets weeded out. Yet artists and institutions are beginning to resist.
In 2017, we do not accept the commencement in which educational aspiration is nothing more than bait. We do not accept the normalization of:
· More than a trillion dollars of student debt––a sum that now largely powers the US economy and a sum that is harvested through banks, hedge funds, and asset managers such as Blackrock, Inc.––a largely unknown firm larger than the World bank––to become dynastic wealth for billionaires extracted from the future time of a new generation.
· An era of renewed deregulation, wherein many have been and will continue to be led into debt spirals and potential lifelong financial disempowerment by “reputable” corporations, like Navient Corporation, who are securitized by taxpayer money.
Because the 2017 Commencement marks this widening of the class and race gap as the Collector Class counter-revolution proceeds, we must redefine commencement this year. Let it be the commencement of long-term struggle against the extraction instruments of the Collector Class.
On the table are: Debt strikes, a reformulation of institutions …to be given voice at the museum on May 5th.
We define the Class of 2017 in this way:
Class War began long Ago
We are losing—badly
Time to Re-Commence the Struggle.
ANNOUNCING ARTISTS IN DEBT INCLUDED IN 2017 WHITNEY BIENNIAL
As part of the Debtfair project we have selected 30 artists who share common economic conditions who will have their work installed in the museum. All 500 + artists who participated in the Debtfair Open Call will have their work digitally displayed as part of the installation which opens March 17th 2017.
Artists Directly Affected by Puerto Rican Debt Crisis (First Bank of Puerto Rico and Banco Popular)
Nibia Pastrana Santiago
Artists in Debt to Navient Corporation
Felicia D. Megginson
Joe Bun Keo
Jason Christopher Childers
Lina DibMaura Falfan
ACTION: TRUMP ADVISOR LARRY FINK OFF MOMA'S BOARD!
February 17, 2017
It has come to our attention that a Trump economic advisor sits on the board of the Museum of Modern Art. The name of this advisor is Larry Fink. He is the co-founder and CEO of Blackrock Inc, the largest financial company in the world. Blackrock barely existed before 2008. Today it manages 5.1 trillion dollars of assets. If you hold any kind of debt to any bank, chances are that its traded by Blackrock. The firm is deeply invested in Americans—and especially students to remain in permanent debt. Fink is also on the board of NYU.
Fink is not in Bannon’s camp. He’s a liberal. He was talked about as a potential Clinton treasury secretary. But now he’s on Trump’s team. And because Trump is waging a war of hate and lies against Muslims, Immigrants, women, LGBTQ, disabled, and the planet itself, one cannot reasonably advise or do any kind of business with this regime. To advise this regime is to normalize White Supremacy.
There is a long history of activism at MoMA. In fact, tonight’s free museum entrance was brought to you by the Art Worker’s coalition protests decades ago. So in this tradition, we are calling for MoMA to change its behavior.
No More Normalizing Trump.
We are calling for Larry Fink to be kicked off the board as a sign to your public that you care for our values of human dignity.
Why are you normalizing this regime by having a Trump advisor on your board?
Larry Fink of Blackrock Inc!
MoMA, time to Dump Trump!
Fink off the Board!
ANTI-FASCIST SPEAKOUT ON #J20, WHITNEY MUSEUM
(on J20 the museum will be pay as you wish)
- What is the role and responsibility of artists and other cultural practitioners within a nation turning toward Fascism?
- Where is the agency of cultural institutions who depend on philanthropy under an illiberal system that rewards the 1% lavishly.
- How can cultural institutions oppose the state to support and protect their workers and artists who are citizens under threat?
- What specific cultural histories need to be revisited in this political climate to learn from, to revise, to renew, or to newly criticize?
- How can cultural institutions begin a process of self-reflection and dialogue in order to assess their complicity in our nation’s arrival at this political moment
Aaron Burr Society
Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter (Nontsikelelo Mutiti, Tiona McClodden, and Daniella Rose King)
Chinatown Art Brigade (Betty Yu, Tomie Arai, Liz Moy)
After this event, stay with us for actions, an assembly, and out onto the streets organized by #J20 planners.
5 PM at Foley Square:
UBS COLLECTION CATALOG RELEASED AT ART BASEL MIAMI 2016
This year’s Miami Art Fairs opening today should be considered as Trump’s inaugural pre-party. That’s because those who will benefit the most from the coming tax cuts and deregulation of industries from finance to Big Pharma to oil and gas, are in Miami now on an art-asset shopping spree.
On the other hand, when wage regulations are cut and student, mortgage, and credit card debts deregulated, 99% or artists are in for tough times. To be fair, artist’s position is nowhere as bad as the most vulnerable citizens: immigrants who will be terrorized, Muslims demonized, LGBTQ harassed, people of color targeted, women shamed. Down in Miami, the party will continue each year.
Art Basel Miami’s lead partner is UBS–the Swiss Bank specializing in wealth management for the world’s ultra-high net worth individuals. This year the bank is launching a catalog for its collection: “UBS Debt Collection: To the 1% Its Freedom” We have obtained a copy. We hope you enjoy this important collection.
DEBTFAIR OPEN CALL
ARTISTS IN DEBT: Open Call to Join Debt-organizing Platform at Whitney Biennial
Are you an artist? Are you in debt?
The day after the election, a well-known art collector writes: “Congratulations President-elect Donald Trump. The people have spoken….nothing left to do now but stop bitching and griping and get on with the job. ...it's not as bad as you think.” That day, the stock market also spoke by closing at an all time high. Business will go on for the wealthy, the top tiers of the art market will continue to boom, but many face dark days ahead. Racism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and xenophobia have been normalized while inequity across all communities is sure to widen.
The inequities shared by people in both red and blue states are financial precarity and debt.
Occupy Museums invites artists across the US to unite in Debtfair, a project that will be shown at the Whitney Biennial in March 2017. Debtfair is a means of exposing the hidden layer of debt within the art market and its institutions. The 92 artists currently on debtfair.org hold $5.2 Million of debt. We will expand this community in 2017. All artists who apply through this open call will be featured on a revamped debtfair.org, and their work will be shown digitally in the museum; 30 artists who are indebted to the same institutions will exhibit their physical work.
We believe that the practices of painting, sculpture, performance, video, music, and conceptual practice lie at the core of a progressive democratic society. Yet artists and culture workers face evermore extractive economic burdens parallel to the booming wealth and financialization of the art market. Debt often elicits feelings of shame and alienation. It is a hidden tool of economic, social, and racial division. Yet, by showing how we are interconnected through it, Debtfair mobilizes around the financial relationships that bind us to one another, locating possibilities for solidarity in a global struggle, and leveraging our collective power as debtors.
We ask our fellow artists to complete the following questionnaire to begin the process of joining Debtfair. Sharing data about your debts allow us to paint an accurate picture of art and debt today. Only images of your artwork and select written answers are shown publicly with ability to edit your public profile at any point. All information is kept in confidence.
We are particularly interested in organizing groups of artists around the following criteria:
Artists currently in default (including but not limited to education, mortgage, auto, credit card, medical and personal debts. Institutions may include but not be limited to JP Morgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, FedLoan, Sallie Mae, Navient, Fannie Mae, debt collectors etc.)
Current and former students of New York University with outstanding debts
Puerto Rican Artists and artists of Puerto Rican descent who have been directly affected by austerity measures and/ or with relationship to Banco Popular (and other institutions)
Artists in the exhibition will be notified by the end of December, 2016.
For media restrictions and further guidelines, please see details in the application link.
Venue: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City
To learn more about Debtfair and view existing profiles, click here.
To learn more about Debtfair’s exhibition at Art League Houston, click here.
Occupy Museums in Agitprop! at Brooklyn Museum
Occupy Museums' piece "Eroding Plazas and Accumulating Resistance" is a relief map showing the gentrification process around the Brooklyn Museum. It is meant to be a tool used in an outdoor action. In this piece, Occupy Museums teases out a relationship between ultra luxury global real estate in Manhattan and rapid speculation/displacement in Brooklyn. Both processes are unfolding right around the major museums: the Met and Brooklyn Museum. What role do museums play?
The piece is a response to the Real Estate Summit Protest at the Brooklyn Museum on November 17th, and we are involved in a coalition that is organizing around this issue and calling on the Museum to no longer support the speculative real estate industry with its space and reputation.
From the Agitptop! curatorial text. "At key moments in history, artists have reached beyond galleries and museums, using their work as a call to action to create political and social change. For the past hundred years, the term agitprop, a combination of agitation and propaganda, has directly reflected the intent of this work.
Agitprop! connects contemporary art devoted to social change with historic moments in creative activism, highlighting activities that seek to motivate broad and diverse publics....These projects highlight struggles for social justice since the turn of the twentieth century, from women’s suffrage and antilynching campaigns to contemporary demands for human rights, environmental advocacy, and protests against war, mass-incarceration, and economic inequality."
Debtfair Houston: How Do the Economic Realities of Capitalism Effect Artistic Practice?
Debtfair is an ongoing artistic campaign to expose the relationship between economic inequality in the art market and artists’ growing debt burdens, exploring the idea that all spaces function with a layer of extraction just below the surface. Occupy Museums and Art League Houston (ALH) invite Texas-based artists to reframe and exhibit their artwork within the first-realization of Debtfair to illustrate the economic realities for Texas artists and their relationships to the cultural economy at large.
Original artwork will be collected through a non-juried open call in which artists will be asked to submit a work of equal relative value to their monthly debt payment. Artworks will be organized in collective groupings (“bundles”) and exhibited inside the walls, between the studs of the main gallery of ALH. Bundles will be grouped based on information collected from an online questionnaire. This collective exhibition format will present artworks in shared rather than individual terms, illustrating the total debts amongst participating artists and identifying the institutions in which these debts are rooted (banks, schools, cultural programs, life expenses, etc.).
Artwork in Debtfair will be for sale, but not in the normal way that art is sold. Bundled artworks will be available for sale with a starting value of the totaled monthly debt payments of included artists. This number will then be given the same interest rates and financial metrics applied to the debts of artists involved increasing bundle price at the same rate of artists’ debts. Any sales will be distributed to artists at their declared value, further profits evenly split and all payments made directly to the artists’ lending institution for a minimum of one month’s debt relief.
Inauguration of the Fracked Gas Line Museum
Images of Occupy Museums, Sane Energy, and the Guerrilla Girls inaugurating the new Whitney Museum, which stands on top of a new fracked gas pipeline serving NYC.
Open Letter co-written with Occupy the Pipeline and Liberate Tate:
We stand in support of art as a necessity in the service of life, art as a social good, and art as common inheritance of the public.
Therefore, we cannot ignore when art museums allow the public good that art engenders to be misused by powerful corporations in an effort to build credibility when their activities create environmental damage and rights abuses. The sponsorship of art by the fossil fuel industry has long been a public relations ploy aimed at obtaining a social license for destructive profit-making.
Citizens and institutions worldwide are withdrawing support for the continued extraction of fossil fuels that should be kept in the ground. In arts and culture, from London to New York to Sydney, momentum is building for museums to end their connections to the fossil fuel industry. In the UK, artists including Liberate Tate are calling for Tate to culturally divest from the oil company BP. Recently, dozens of leading scientists signed a letter initiated by The Natural History Museum, to remove climate change underwriter David Koch from the board of science museums, and for science museums to cut ties to the fossil fuel industry.
With the new Whitney museum in New York, the public now has an example of a museum that literally incorporates fossil fuel infrastructure into its foundation. The vault of the controversial Spectra gas pipeline is concealed underneath the Whitney museum’s front steps.
The Spectra pipeline is a high-pressure pipeline that brings fracked gas from Pennsylvania and elsewhere to New York City. Should an accident occur, the result could be irreparable harm to the museum, its art collection, workers, and visitors.
Though proponents of “natural” gas promote fracking as a relatively harmless process and claim that gas burns clean, the overall extraction process of fracking has a climate impact comparable to coal. The fracking process pollutes drinking water, creates harmful emissions, and causes earthquakes.
Today we are asking: how can a museum that literally covers up the dirty fossil fuel industry be a beacon for the future of art and culture? This summer, we will host a public assembly in the neighborhood of the new Whitney, and hope that representatives of the museum will be present and active in this important dialogue on art and fossil fuels.
We have Six Key Questions for the Whitney. The people of New York have a right to know the answers to pressing questions before the Whitney opens the doors of its new location.
- How did the Whitney come to be sited over the Spectra pipeline and its fracked gas?
- What emergency plans are in place, including
- how will people and artworks be kept safe and protected if the pipeline explodes, and
- as the Whitney must be aware of how lax the maintenance and inspection rules are for pipelines, what independent risk mitigation action has it taken?
- Given that the Whitney now sits on fossil fuel infrastructure, is the art museum committed to exhibit art that explores themes such as the environment, energy, and how corporations operate in society?
- Will the Whitney ensure that its art education, public and academic programs explore issues such as climate change and the role of art in relation to a safe, habitable environment for Americans and, indeed, all humankind?
- Does the Whitney believe the energy future of New York should be renewable sources rather than more reliance on fossil fuels that will add to climate change?
- Will the Whitney move forward with new environmental and ethics policies to enable it to play a responsible leadership role in the art world and sustainability in a time of climate change, including full independence from fossil fuel interests?
Artists, art lovers, environmentally-concerned citizens, and the media will be taking an interest in this issue, internationally as well in New York and across the USA. The decision to co-locate the new Whitney with fossil fuels cannot be ignored. It has given a significance to the site and identity of the art museum that will resonate in the months and years ahead.
The Whitney museum can make active choices now to be a force for good on the right side of history for the future of New York and the planet, for a culture beyond fossil fuels.
Occupy the Pipeline
Sane Energy Project
Stopp oljesponsing av norsk kulturliv
The Yes Lab
Not An Alternative
The Natural History Museum
United for Action
Global Ultra Luxury Faction
Rising Tide NYC
NYC Light Brigade
Beyond Extreme Energy
The Mother’s Project
Shale Property Rights
NYC Bike Dance
The Artist as Debtor at Cooper Union
Martha Rosler's presentation
We live in an era of unprecedented profits from contemporary art sales and massive debts incurred by art students. Are these phenomena related? Is it a coincidence that in an age in which art can be made from nothing, the price attached to an art degree is staggeringly high? Contemporary art institutions amass great wealth through real estate development and the value of their holdings — why then do museums, art-related businesses and art schools rely so heavily on precarious and unpaid labor provided by artists? What are the connections between big money in the art world and the big debts taken on by so many young artists? Are artists encouraged to believe that extreme economic disparity is just part of the way the art world works? Do romantic ideas about merit and talent mask a system of indenture?
Artists Noah Fischer (member of Occupy Museums) and Coco Fusco will present a conference to discuss the art and the debt economy on January 23 2015 at The Great Hall of Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. This event is made possible thanks to support from The School of Art at Cooper Union. Our featured speakers include artists Julieta Aranda, William Powhida, Martha Rosler, Gregory Sholette; writer Brian Kuan Wood; W.A.G. E., BFAMFAPHD, and cultural theorist Andrew Ross.
Creative Extraction: Why are Art Schools at the Vanguard of Unreasonable Debt Burdens? A Conversation with Coco Fusco
organized by Occupy Museums:
Friday, December 5, 2014, 6-8 pm:
Momenta Art, 56 Bogart St Brooklyn NY.
FB event here
In recent years, we have witnessed many art school graduates snared into unpayable debt traps through the skyrocketing tuitions paired with low earning potential. Debtfair by Occupy Museums, currently on view in the exhibition “Work It Out,” is a proposal for an alternative art fair that aims to alleviate the debt crisis in the Art World. While proposing a solution based on solidarity, Debtfair also examines the interconnections that exist between student debt, exploitative labor conditions in the art industry, and alliances between the art market and multinational banks and corporations.
How does the “Art World,” whether willingly or unwittingly, take part in an inter-connected web of globalizing neo-liberal economy? While the Art World frolics amid the markets of the Miami Basel Art Fairs, Occupy Museums invites artist and educator, Coco Fusco to introduce a less glamorous section of the Art World: an art education complex paralleled with global practices of labor exploitation, predatory lending, and the privatization of culture. We will discuss broader ranges of oppressive practices, including tuition hikes, predatory lending to students, and the increasing precariousness of faculty positions that parallels other service-labor.
Ritual Rebranding of the David H. Koch Plaza on the Day of its Dedication
#RebrandKoch #PeoplesClimate See Facebook event
As the world prepares to converge on NYC in a mass call for Climate Justice, the Metropolitan Museum of Art will honor David H. Koch, a 4-star general in the dirty energy industry’s war against planet earth. The public space and two grand fountains in front of the Met’s facade will be renamed as the David H. Koch Plaza, following an extensive renovation.
The people will be present at the dedication on Tuesday, September 9th to stand in resistance. The celebration of this philanthropic abuse of the commons cannot pass unchallenged. People are rallying to demand sustainable policies for our culture and the ecosystem.
These fountains are boiling. The policies of The Patron contribute to the melting of the ice caps and the rising of the seas.
We invite you to join a ritual cleansing of the Place Formerly Known As David H. Koch Plaza. In a durational ceremony, we will call upon the energies of resistance, chanting and making offerings, and will collectively rename and rebrand the Plaza.
Proposal to Re-Common the David H. Koch Plaza
"The Metropolitan Museum is scouring away the mark of the public, banishing the working artists who sell their art outside the museum to support their artistic practices and feed their families. Koch Plaza is an intolerable affront to the hardworking people of New York who are one Koch-funded cut away from joining the City’s 66,000 homeless.
In a climate of near-total reliance on ever-more powerful plutocrats, how can free speech in public institutions flourish?
Occupy Museums proposes a project to re-common the Museum."
BIG win for Union Labor at Frieze Art Fair 2014:
"One of the most significant consequences of the Occupy Wall Street movement that descended on lower Manhattan in 2011 was a rejection of that cynicism and a renewed vigor in the alliance between cultural workers and actual workers. From Adbusters to n+1, cultural reviews found common cause with labor, united against the increasingly oligarchic structures of capital freed from democratic accountability. So when it first emerged that the Frieze fair, unlike the Armory and the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA), New York’s other two major fairs, would not be employing union labor for the construction of its vast (and vastly temporary) facility, the initial protest fell not just to the slighted unions but to an offshoot of this newly formed consciousness. Occupy Museums staged protests at the exit of the 2012 Frieze Art Fair, passing out pamphlets and copies of the n+1-produced Occupy! Gazette into the hands and windows of fair patrons. An alternative event was also organized: Un-Frieze, a barter-based fair. The unions picketed Frieze sponsor Deutsche Bank at 60 Wall Street and joined Occupy Museums at the fair with a signature inflatable rat."
Occupy Museums joins Gulf Labor, MTL, students from NYU, and others to form Global Ultra Luxury Faction (GULF). Highlighting Migrant Labor Debt Bondage involved in the construction of new Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.
Money Rains down in the Guggenheim
Illuminator team joins to rebrand Guggenheim as 1% Global Museum
The Illuminator Joins Gulf Ultra Luxury Faction:
Rebranding the Guggenheim for Exploiting Migrant Workers in Abu Dhabi
At 10:00 pm last night, members of Gulf Ultra Luxury Faction (G.U.L.F.) joined by the OWS Illuminator occupied the facade of Guggenheim Museum in Uptown Manhattan for over 40 minutes. G.U.L.F. rebranded the Guggenheim’s flagship museum in protest of complicity at the ill-treatment and economic exploitation of migrant workers in Abu Dhabi who are beginning to build the new Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim on Saadiyat Island (aka ‘Island of Happiness’). G.U.L.F.’s act of messaging solidarity follows recent reports from Human Rights Watch, as well as investigative findings from members of the Gulf Labor Coalition (some of whom overlap with G.U.L.F.) who have just returned from a fact-finding mission in Abu Dhabi where where they visited several worker camps and spoke with workers. They confirmed a reality that is the opposite of happy: multiple labor violations, generated by a system built on human suffering and debt bondage.
Last night, G.U.L.F. renewed the call on the Guggenheim to own up to its responsibility as a leading cultural, educational and art institution, and not take economic advantage of the workers seeking the ‘Gulf Dream’. Workers should not be caught in a debt spiral where they must work for years on building the museum only to pay the fees that brought them to Abu Dhabi in the first place. Guggenheim has a choice here. It must refuse to lend its cultural capital to build the ‘Island of Happiness’ where art and luxury mask and maintain a racialized exploitative labor regime, while using its PR department and those of its partners to hide the facts and mislead the public. Unless the Guggenheim changes course with the new museum in Abu Dhabi, G.U.L.F. will continue to remind the Guggenheim that their brand is: “1% Global Museum.”
1% Museums means 1% Art.
Art built on Oppression Loses Meaning.
There are other possible Futures of Art.
Occupy Museums joins Gulf Labor, MTL, students from NYU, and others to form Global Ultra Luxury Faction (GULF). Highlighting Migrant Labor Debt Bondage involved in the construction of new Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.
First Action of GULF
(above image-manifesto briefly on Guggenheim's wall/photo: Hrag Vartanian)
Each time the Guggenheim speaks, its approach to migrant labour issues on Saadiyat Island sounds more like that of a global corporation than that of an educational or art institution. We would like to remind the Guggenheim that it’s a museum, with a mission to “explore ideas across cultures through dynamic curatorial and educational initiatives.” Museums should help the public come to a greater understanding of the global complexities we all face.
Each day the Guggenheim hides behind the excuse that “construction has not yet started on our building” is another day of evading decisions and actions which could prevent a future migrant worker’s servitude. Right now, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi’s infrastructure is being constructed. That infrastructure includes roads, sewage, water, electric, net pipes, etc., leading to the museum. But other components of the work are also under way. We can only assume that money has been transferred to the Guggenheim here in New York in order to hire the curators and administrators of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. We know that events off-site have already been organized. Works of art have certainly been bought, insured, and stored. Last but not least, Saadiyat Island is being sold to investors on the basis of the Guggenheim’s name, along with those of the Louvre, the British Museum and others. How can the Guggenheim claim that construction has not begun?
Even if we were to take at face value the claim that construction of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi has not begun, we would say the following: NOW thousands of workers who will build your museum are taking on the massive debt that will take them years to repay; NOW workers are being recruited with promises that will not be fulfilled, for jobs that will pay less than they expected; NOW workers are applying for the passports that may be confiscated as soon as they land in the UAE; and, surely, NOW is the time to do something about all of this.
It is unfortunate but not surprising that the Guggenheim refuses to open its doors to a serious public dialogue about the migrant labor issues in Abu Dhabi. A museum of its stature must foster public education about the conditions under which art is viewed. The Guggenheim is stepping back from this social responsibility as it focuses on expanding into new global markets.
As for the underpaid Guggenheim guards’ wages in New York, passing off culpability to a subcontractor is no longer an acceptable practice, even in the corporate world. The Guggenheim should pay all employees at least a living wage, even if they are on a contractor’s payroll.
Sadly, the Guggenheim’s latest response confirms our expectation. It has tried to hide behind technicalities and PR spin as it waits for news cycles to die down. We know the composition of their board and it does not surprise us. A 1% Global Museum with a 1% Board that cares very little about its lowest-paid employees and the example it is setting to the world.
We will be back.
G.U.L.F.(Global Ultra Luxury Faction)
full video with subtitles:
Monday, February 24th
On Saturday, the G.U.L.F (Global Ultra Luxury Faction) staged a protest at the Guggenheim Museum in support of the rights of migrant workers in Abu Dhabi.
Earlier today, the Guggenheim director, Richard Armstrong issued a statement pointing out that construction has not begun on the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. In reality, however, construction on the Saadiyat Island infrastructure has been underway for several years (link to: http://www.saadiyat.ae/en/project-update/infrastructure.html), and the Guggenheim is central to the island’s overall development plan, along with the Louvre and NYU. Moreover, the Guggenheim brand is being used to promote the exclusive, ultra-luxury ambience of the island’s appeal to potential investors and tourists.
An in-depth discussion on Saadiyat Island is scheduled for Wednesday, February 26, 5:15pm EDT, at NYU’s Global Center for Academic & Spiritual Life (GCASL), which is located at 238 Thompson Street, Room 369, in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.
Art is not a Luxury Asset for the Wealthiest Global Citizens.
In the course of the Saturday protest, we were outraged to learn about the inadequate pay of the museum’s security guards. As part of their efforts to keep us and the priceless art on display safe, they are paid a mere ten dollars an hour by one of the wealthiest institutions in New York and indeed globally.. In New York City, this is not a living wage, by any estimates. The Guggenheim can and should be paying them more. As the wealth gap widens and the global 1% literally builds exclusive luxury islands, the fates of those left out are bound together. They include both Guggenheim’s NYC museum guards and migrant workers who are constructing the museums on Saadiyat Island.
Museums Should Not be Built on the Backs of Ill-Treated Workers.
We call on the Guggenheim Museum to open its doors to a free public assembly on these issues on Saturday March 1. We look forward to the conversation.
Museums Should Be Raising Labor Standards, Not Lowering Them.
(global ultra luxury faction)
manifesto for the action, hung on the wall besides curatorial text of Italian Futurism:
photo: Nick Pinto
manifesto being ripped off wall and taken into Guggenheim's collection
photo: Nick Pinto
OCCUPY MUSEUMS SUPPORTS TEAMSTERS DISPUTE AGAINST FRIEZE ART FAIR
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Michael McKeon
April 16, 2013 (212) 681-1380
LABOR LEADERS TO HOLD PRESS CONFERENCE ON FRIEZE NEW YORK ART FAIR AND CALL UPON ELECTED OFFICIALS TO CHANGE PARKS PERMITTING
Elected officials will join members of Teamsters Joint Council 16, IATSE Local 829, IATSE Local 1 and District Council 9 of Painters, at a press conference on the steps of City Hall Wednesday at 1:00 PM to confront the organizers of the Frieze New York Art show and their local events coordinator, Production Glue, LLC on their continuing discrimination against hiring New York City’s union workers.
Labor leaders contend that Frieze NY and Production Glue refuse to hire professional exhibition workers and hire workers from as far away as Wisconsin to avoid paying a fair wage. Art world enthusiasts speculate that London based Frieze will become a permanent yearly fixture at Randall’s Island. Production Glue also ran the event in 2012 and refused to employ union workers to construct the fairgrounds and facilitate the event.
These unions will demand that Frieze Art Fair end its practice of freezing out New York workers, and engage good, local, union employers effective immediately. They will also call upon the New York City Parks Department to pursue a new permitting process that evaluates labor standards for these major private events that make major profits while displacing families from enjoying local parks.
Frieze New York, which will run on Randall’s Island May 10-13, 2013, is an international contemporary art fair and will feature works from more than 1,000 artists from around the world.
On Wednesday, April 17, 2013, Teamsters Joint Council 16 President George Miranda, NYC Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez, Councilmember Jessica Lappin, Exhibition Employees Union Local 829 President Kenny Kerrigan, IATSE and members of several local unions will speak out on this lack of support and call for Frieze New York’s sponsors to acknowledge the rights of New York City’s union workers.
When: Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Where: Steps of City Hall, City Hall Park
Broadway, New York, NY 10007
Who: Labor Leaders and Elected Officials