Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Gallery Patrons Ejected Over Gaza Flotilla T-Shirts" -- NYTimes Robert Mackey


Thanks, Kathy & Uruknet.info

Four activists were forced to leave an art gallery in New York this month for wearing T-shirts promoting an effort to include an American boat in the next blockade-challenging Gaza flotilla.

The incident came on the final day of an exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery called “Next Year in Jerusalem,” featuring pieces by the German artist Anselm Kiefer on the subject of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.

The T-shirts worn by the activists repeated the show’s title, which is borrowed from a Jewish prayer, in English, Hebrew and Arabic, on the front and said “U.S. Boat to Gaza” and “The Audacity of Hope” on the back. (As The Lede explained in a previous post, the American activists plan to call their boat the Audacity of Hope, echoing the title of a book by President Obama.)

As Claudia Roth Pierpont reported in an account of the incident on the New Yorker’s Web site last week, the gallery, on West 24th Street, called the police, and force was used to eject one bystander who asked the officers why the activists were being ordered to leave.

According to Ms. Pierpont, before the police arrived, the activists had tried to draw attention to their cause in a low-key manner:

Quietly moving through the Anselm Kiefer show at the Gagosian Gallery on its final afternoon were eight people wearing black T-shirts that bore the show’s portentous title — “Next Year in Jerusalem ”— in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. They didn’t speak unless spoken to; they took pictures of themselves standing before some equally portentous works of Holocaust-evoking art. (Everyone was taking pictures; the catalogue cost a hundred dollars.) Only if approached did one of the group explain that they were part of an organization called U.S. Boat to Gaza, which plans to sponsor a ship in the next flotilla to sail against the Israeli blockade. Half of the group had left, and they were reduced to four by the time that gallery representatives asked them to leave, unimpressed by their claims to be extending the discussion that Kiefer had begun. Morality. Guilt. Jewish tragedy, past and present. (“This is private property,” a gallerista in towering heels shot back. “We’re here to sell art.”) A call to the police was threatened. In response, the activists put on their jackets — covering the offending Passover phrase, even while complaining that it had not, to their knowledge, been copyrighted — and asked if they might stay. Without reply, the representatives walked away.

In a widely circulated e-mail account, one of the activists, Laurie Arbeiter, wrote that a member of the Gagosian staff “explained that they had received complaints about the words on our shirt, which were causing confusion, and therefore we would have to leave.”

When New York City police officers arrived at the gallery, they ordered the activists and a gallery patron who had approached them to leave. Ms. Pierpont reported that the patron, a German-American named Ingrid Homberg, initially refused to go. One of the officers responded by pulling Ms. Homberg so roughly by the arm that she fell to the ground, Ms. Pierpont reported. According to Ms. Pierpont, Ms. Homberg, who is in her late 50’s, was then dragged, “howling with pain, across the floor of two long rooms to the doorway.” The New York Police Department denied that Ms. Homberg was dragged out of the gallery.

The gallery is closed this week but described the incident last week as an “unfortunate disturbance,” according to Ms. Pierpont’s New Yorker post.

In a post about the show, an artist and blogger named Mira Schor published another eyewitness account of the incident from Renée Monrose, an artist who says she saw the officers remove Ms. Homberg.

Ms. Arbeiter, an antiwar activist with a group called the Critical Voice, has been involved in a dispute over free speech and T-shirts before. In 2006, an Iraqi blogger named Raed Jarrar was not allowed to board a JetBlue flight wearing a shirt she had given him with the words “We will not be silent” written on it in English and Arabic.*

After the A.C.L.U. filed suit on his behalf, two Transportation Security Administration officials and JetBlue agreed to pay Mr. Jarrar $240,000 to settle his claim that they had discriminated against him based on his ethnicity and the writing on his T-shirt.

*An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the Iraqi blogger’s t-shirt said, “I will not be silent.” Thanks to hte reader who pointed out the error.

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