Art Organizations Around the World Go on Strike in Support of Gaza

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Art Organizations Around the World Go on Strike in Support of Gaza

Participants in today’s strike shared on social media an illustration of a watermelon, which has long been a symbol of Palestinian liberation. (illustration by Javie Huxley, courtesy The Mosaic Rooms)

Artists and arts organizations around the world are on strike today, October 20, in a show of solidarity with Palestinian people as Israel continues its deadly bombardment of Gaza. Across New York City, Amsterdam, Santiago, Berlin, London, and beyond, dozens of art galleries, museums, and individuals are closing their spaces and studios to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, where Israel’s air raids have killed upwards of 4,200 Palestinian people.

In the United Kingdom, the Mosaic Rooms, Cubitt, East Side Projects, and White Pube as well as cultural workers at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London are striking along with other groups worldwide, including the Casco Art Institute in the Netherlands, the Beirut Art Centre, and the De Appel contemporary arts center in Amsterdam. In the United States, participating groups and organizations include Printed Matter, Brooklyn Poets, the Poetry Project, and the Art Handlers Alliance. Strikers called attention to the action on social media by sharing an illustration of a watermelon — a symbol of the Palestinian struggle for liberation.

In Connecticut, the Palestine Museum US — the first museum in the Western hemisphere dedicated to Palestinian art — also joined the strike today. Executive Director Faisal Saleh told Hyperallergic that he has been in touch with many Gazan artists and cultural workers who have been forced to constantly move from one area to another in an effort to dodge the relentless bombing. The lack of electricity and internet access as a result of Israel’s siege has made it difficult for Saleh to confirm whether they are safe.

Heba Zagout and Mohammed Sami, two Gaza City artists whom Saleh worked with, were both killed alongside family members from Israel’s warfare within the past 13 days.

In London, the contemporary art gallery Mosaic Rooms told Hyperallergic that it knew of at least 180 arts organizations and groups striking, as well as several music collectives and musicians that have joined on to today’s action. “We believe in the necessity for collective action to advocate for an immediate cessation of violence and to support the cause of freedom and self-determination for the Palestinian people,” Director Rachael Jarvis said.

Will Farris of the Poetry Project, based in New York City, views their participation in the global strike today as “the role of the arts community.”

“The work of the artist or arts organization is, at its essence, to denounce the hell we all live in and to offer visions of different worlds and ways of being together,” Farris told Hyperallergic. “As artists, we cannot imagine better futures without imagining a free Palestine, without speaking out against the ongoing genocide there.”

Since Hamas’s October 7 attack that killed 1,300 Israeli people and took 199 hostages, Israel’s escalating air raids and deadly siege on Gaza — a move that many human rights experts and organizations have referred to as genocidal — have killed nearly 4,000 Palestinians, with an additional thousand assumed to be buried under rubble from collapsed buildings and infrastructure, according to the UN. Israel’s onslaught of attacks on the strip has further displaced an estimated one million people, half of whom are children. 

Mohammed Alhaj, “Movement” (2021), acrylic on canvas (image courtesy the Palestine Museum US)

In addition to the mounting deaths, which are expected to continue to rise while an expected Israeli ground invasion looms on the horizon, scores of cultural sites and museums in Gaza have been destroyed or impacted. Religious spaces hit by Israeli bombardments include the Al-Sussi Mosque and the Al-Amin Muhammad Mosque and most recently the historic Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrius, where Israeli air strikes yesterday killed at least 16 people.

The Al-Qarara Cultural Museum, located in central Gaza and housing artifacts spanning several millennia, also shared on Facebook that its building and collections were severely damaged in airstrikes, which shattered its windows and broke doors on October 13.

An October 17 report from the Palestine Museum in Birzeit also reported that the Rafah Museum, among other cultural institutions, had been destroyed in bombings. Hyperallergic has contacted both the Palestine Museum and the Al-Qarara Cultural Museum for updated information.

Today’s global strike follows more than a week of international protests led by various advocacy groups and Jewish organizations opposed to Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Earlier this week, thousands of artists, cultural workers, and scholars including Nan Goldin, Cecilia Vicuña, and Barbara Kruger, signed an open letter calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Calling on members of the international arts community, Saleh of Connecticut’s Palestine Museum US expressed concern that “a lot of the ‘big-name’ institutions” are more willing to provide a platform to Israeli artists than Palestinian ones. For example, since the Occupied Palestinian Territories are not formally recognized as a country, they do not qualify for the same pavilion exhibition at the Venice Biennale that Israel receives. Support of Palestinian liberation, Saleh noted, needs to extend beyond today and be prioritized going forward in the art world, as he called upon institutions and organizations to “open their doors for Palestinian art.”

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