News

‘These Prisons Punish for Profit’: At MoMA Conference, Academics Call on Museum, Board Member to Divest From Private Prisons

The Museum of Modern Art.

TESSA HAMBURG/IMAGEBROKER/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK

At a conference about globalism and the art world at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on Sunday, participants circulated a statement calling on the institution and Larry Fink, one of its trustees and the CEO of the investment firm BlackRock, to divest from companies involved in private prisons.

Signed by academics, artists, curators, and activists, the statement highlighted BlackRock’s investments in GEO Group and CoreCivic, which operate private prisons. It also noted MoMA’s use of Fidelity Investments, which owns stock in private prison companies, to manage its pension funds.

Representatives for Fink and MoMA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Sunday marked the third day of the conference, titled “The Multiplication of Perspectives: The 10th Anniversary of MoMA’s Global Research Initiative, C-MAP.” The event celebrated an initiative at the museum that facilitates research on art in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere.

Natalia Brizuela, a professor in the Spanish and Portuguese department of the University of California Berkeley, read the statement aloud following a panel about the possibilities—and impossibilities—of translating visual ideas across cultures. After she read the statement, which was written in collaboration with the activist group Art Space Sanctuary, some audience members gave her a standing ovation.

Among the participants at today’s event who signed the letter were artists Kader Attia, Jumana Manna, and Zoran Popovic; Omer Berrada, a Morocco-based writer and curator; Cécile Fromont, an associate professor of art history at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut; and philosopher Achille Mbembe. The list of signatures includes almost every participant at the conference.

The reading of today’s statement follows a petition circulated by Art Space Sanctuary in March that urged Fink and MoMA to divest. That same month, Art Space Sanctuary and the group CODEPINK, along with some members of the Decolonize This Place, staged an action at MoMA’s annual David Rockefeller Awards lunch. The honoree at the event was Brian Moynihan, the CEO of Bank of America, who protesters alleged was also an investor in private prisons.

Earlier this year, Abou Farman, the founder of Art Space Sanctuary and an assistant professor in the anthropology department of the New School in New York, told ARTnews that the group was not asking Fink to resign from his position on MoMA’s board. At the time, Farman called divestment an “abolitionist idea.”

The statement, along with the list of signatories, follows in full below.

MOMA DIVEST STATEMENT

We, invited speakers at the MOMA-organized conference The Multiplication of Perspectives, ask that MOMA and its board member Larry Fink divest from private prison companies.

MOMA Board member Larry Fink is CEO of BlackRock, the 2nd largest shareholder of prison companies, GEO Group and Core Civic. With over $2 billion in contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), these two companies are responsible for over 70% of all immigration detention including families separated at the border. MOMA’s own pension fund, Fidelity, is also one of the largest owners of these prison stocks.

These prisons punish for profit, break up families and communities, detain immigrant children and impede visits.
These prisons are racist, violent and routinely violate human rights. Detained Migrants are denied due process.
These prisons cut costs, deny medical care and serve barely edible food.

These prisons think of immigrants as a market. This is just the beginning. They are seeking to expand into other markets.

If the MOMA Board are not convinced of the injustice, we ask that Larry Fink and the MOMA board meet with concerned artists, community leaders, immigrant rights organizations, and detainees to hear the real story about the prison shares they own.

Kader Attia
Zdenka Badovinac
Omar Berrada
Natalia Brizuela
Victoria Collis-Buthelezi
Max Jorge Hinderer Cruz
Cecile Fromont
Timea Junghaus
Jumana Manna
Joe Masco
Achille Mbembe
Zoran Popovic
Harsha Ram
Ann Stoler
Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi

© 2019 ARTnews Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved. ARTnews® is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.