Following a letter signed by nearly 100 employees at the Whitney Museum urging the institution to take action against Warren B. Kanders, vice chair of the institution’s board, the activist group Decolonize This Place has planned an assembly in front of the museum for 12 p.m. this Sunday, December 9. Titled “Assemble at the Whitney: No Space for Profiteers of State Violence,” the event aims to raise awareness of Kanders’s involvement in Safariland, a company that has manufactures tear gas canisters and other products used against asylum seekers on the U.S.-Mexico border.
A description on a Facebook event page reads, in part: “Many of us, our families, and our communities here and abroad have been on the receiving end of the products made and marketed by Safariland and its numerous subsidiaries like Defense Technology. We consider [Whitney director Adam] Weinberg’s apparent decision to stand with Kanders a line in the sand. That line is unacceptable to us, and now the entire institution of the Whitney faces a broad crisis of legitimacy.”
To complement the protest, Decolonize This Place and the collective MTL+ have produced materials that intermingle imagery related to Safariland and advertisements related to the Whitney’s current Andy Warhol retrospective, for which Kanders is listed as a “significant contributor.”
Decolonize This Place’s action comes amid a series of open letters. The first—the one signed by 95 Whitney employees—was circulated internally at the museum this past Friday and was first published by Hyperallergic following a report that laid bare Kanders’s purchase of Safariland in 2012. “To remain silent,” the letter’s signees stated, “is to remain complicit.” They demanded that Whitney leadership consider asking Kanders to resign and to further explicate its policies regarding museum trustees.
On Monday, Weinberg, the museum’s director, responded with a note of his own in which he called on the employees to have a dialogue. Weinberg called such conversation “the democracy of art.” That same day, Kanders released a missive defending himself. “The staff letter implies that I am responsible for the decision to use these products. I am not,” he wrote, adding that Safariland’s business is “highly regulated.”
On its event page, Decolonize This Place writes, “We have a responsibility to hold all of our institutions accountable, including the Whitney Museum. After much deliberation, reach outs, and consultation with collaborators, we are putting out this city-wide call. This is the beginning. See you in front of the Whitney Museum.”