Since Donald Trump signed his executive order implementing a travel ban, he’s gotten some backlash. Protests have risen left and right, and various companies have found their own way of expressing their indignation at the order. Even the Super Bowl had its fair share of commentary, with the advertisements making their stand clear and Lady Gaga hinting at a message of inclusion at halftime. Now, the Museum of Modern Art has also taken a stand.
On the fifth floor of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the pieces on display typically showcase a suite of Western Modernism, according to the Times. However, in solidarity for those affected by the travel ban, MoMA has replaced these pieces with Muslim art.
What Are We Looking At?
Specifically, the pieces now on display are those by artists from Iraq, Iran, and Sudan. Those are three of the seven countries labelled in the executive order as potential terrorist threats.
There’s a small 1964 oil painting called The Mosque, by Ibrahim el-Salahi. A large piece on paper called Mon Père et Moi is by Iranian artist Charles Hossein Zenderoudi. Also present is a painting for The Peak Project by the late Iraqi-born Zaha Hadid.
In response to last week’s executive order denying citizens from seven predominantly Muslim nations entry to the United States, we have installed works by artists from some of those countries throughout our collection galleries. One of these works is Zaha Hadid's "The Peak Project, Hong Kong, China" (1991), adjacent to Henri Rousseau's "The Sleeping Gypsy" (1897). Hadid (British, born Iraq. 1950–2016) became the first woman, and first Iraqi, to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004. … See this work up close at mo.ma/2l47Jg6 (link in bio) #ZahaHadid #Architecture #ArtSpeaks
Other pieces cover the area: paintings, sculptures, tableaus. What they have in common is simple. Their respective artists are all unable to see their own works displayed, due to the travel ban.
Beside the pieces, a message is displayed: “This work is by an artist from a nation whose citizens are being denied entry into the United States, according to a presidential executive order issued on January 27, 2017. This is one of several such artworks from the Museum’s collection installed throughout the fifth-floor galleries to affirm the ideals of welcome and freedom as vital to this Museum, as they are to the United States.”
Why This Matters
While there’s nothing wrong with the spirit of protecting one’s nation from acts of terror, Donald Trump’s executive order has one particular failure. That is, it’s targeting the wrong people. Classifying immigrants and refugees as terrorists creates false narratives and promotes stereotyping. The new display at the Museum of Modern Art is a reflection of what people from such countries can really contribute.
The conclusion to which the Museum of Modern Art is leading its guests: These are artists, not terrorists. In the presence of such pieces, the distinction is more apparent.
Art, as they say, is universal. By temporarily dropping Picasso, and Boccioni, and replacing them with names from countries deemed “threats”, MoMA suggests that same idea. An astute art critic is also likely to spot elements of similarity between masterpieces from the West, and those from the Middle-East.
Sometimes art is just meant to be beautiful. But in this case, it can be political too.