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MoMA vs. the Muslim Ban: The Paint Brush is Mightier than the (President’s) Pen

by Deanna Duxbury

I won’t fill you in on the details of the #muslimban…other than the fact that Trump works to bar seven predominantly Muslim countries from the United States effectively separating relatives, severing lives and spreading terror for ones safety, citizenship and respect in a convoluted effort to protect the country from acts of terrorism. This horrific reality digests through the system like a Trump steak shoved down your throat. That sounds particularly gross, don’t you agree? I’m glad you do. This is the story constantly evolving within the news.

Visitors look at K+L+32+H+4. Mon père et moi (My Father and I), 1962 by Iranian painter and sculptor Charles Hossein Zenderoudi at the Museum of Modern Art on February 3, 2017 in New York City. Courtesy of Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images.

Actually, it’s many stories. It is all the stories of broken families, hopeless immigrants, fearful citizens, and the struggle of those pushing past the red tape to stand in solidarity against this ban. Hell, it was even in the Grammy’s.

Parvez Tanavoli’s The Prophet (1964), with Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913) in the background. Courtesy of Ben Davis.

MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art) decided these stories matter. They matter so much, in fact, that they showcased an exhibition-featuring artists from the seven countries Trump had banned.

The Mosque by Ibrahim El-Salahi is another piece freshly installed at MoMA. The Sudanese artist’s work is influenced by many forms, including African decorative elements and Arabic calligraphy. (moma.org)

Jason Fargo of The New York Times wrote, “They have displayed the Sudanese painter Ibrahim el-Salahi, the Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid, and the Los Angeles-based Iranian video artist Tala Madani…replacing seven works by Picasso, Matisse and Picabia, among other Western artists…. Except for Hadid and Mr. el-Salahi, the other artists are all Iranian by birth or heritage. They are Ms. Madani; the sculptor Parviz Tanavoli; the draftsman Charles Hossein Zenderoudi; the photographer Shirana Shahbazi; and the painter Marcos Grigorian. In addition, a large sculpture of aluminum and steel by Siah Armajani, an American artist born in Iran, was placed in the glass-walled lobby courtyard overlooking the garden”.

Of course, he wasn’t the only one to write about it. This hit the Internet like dominos on fire. This action of defiance has been publicized on The Independent, Huffington Post, Vox, The Guardian, Artnet, Vulture, Fusion, CBC, Gothamist and about a million other news, arts and culture sources (of course, now including the renown Fridge Door Gallery Blog because there was no way we’d be left out of this one). 

Installation view of the collection galleries at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Siah Armajani’s “Elements Number 30, 1990” (Robert Gerhardt / Museum of Modern Art)

Each work is accompanied by a clear statement relaying the purpose of the exhibit: “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 Jan. 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.”

Installation view of the collection galleries at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. At right, Zaha Hadid’s “The Peak Project, Hong Kong, China, 1991” (Robert Gerhardt / Museum of Modern Art)

Ben Davis of Artnet writes, “The Modern galleries are where MoMA keeps the crown jewels. Inserting the new works alongside the museum’s foundational treasures gives a certain kind of symbolic weight to the inclusion. It interrupts business as usual”. Though I am very certain this move interrupts more than the usual business of the MoMA, it is interesting to reflect upon this art occupying high-profile space within a high-profile space. This act allows large groups of people to collectively experience a variety of cultures deemed “dangerous”, displaying a brilliance that transcends prejudice. 

Unfortunately, issues like this are just the beginning of what may be the longest four years on the face of this good earth. Fortunately, if you’re not in traveling distance of MoMA, there’s a similarly shocking and relevant exhibition right here in Montreal.

Leila Alaoui (1982-2016), photo from the series “No Pasara” [Entry Denied], 2008, ink-jet print. Courtesy of the Fondation Leila Alaoui, Marrakesh, Morocco; Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, Italy / Beijing, China / Les Moulins, France / and Havana, Cuba; and VOICE Gallery, Marrakesh, Morocco.

Leila Alaoui’s “NO PASARA” is on display to “commemorate the death of this emerging artist who was killed during an attack carried out by Al-Qaeda in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on January 15, 2016….This series of twenty-four images commissioned by the European Union in 2008, whose title means “entry denied,” depicts young Moroccans dreaming of an Eldorado on the other side of the Mediterranean” (mmba.ca). 

Startling and moving, her work accents the greater troubles down south as well as brings attention to the greater struggles of refugees and immigrants in a deeply emotive display of photojournalism.  

Leila Alaoui (1982-2016), photo from the series “No Pasara” [Entry Denied], 2008, ink-jet print. Courtesy of the Fondation Leila Alaoui, Marrakesh, Morocco; Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, Italy / Beijing, China / Les Moulins, France / and Havana, Cuba; and VOICE Gallery, Marrakesh, Morocco.

In the midst of all of this, it is so important to remember that these stories –the stories hanging on the walls of MoMA, the stories in our very own MMBA, the stories flooding social media, and the stories held within the hearts of those suffering the consequences of the current political landscape –matter. They have always mattered. They have always deserved to be told and seen and, with the support of all those working against this blind hatred, they will continue to matter in years to come.

There is currently no set end date for the display. MoMA is also hosting an accompanying film series beginning February 13. This series will feature work from Mohammad Rasoulof (Iran), Manijeh Hekmat (Iran), Ossama Mohammed (Syria), and Kais Al-Zubaidi (Iraq) as a continuation to the solidarity the museum actively promotes and inspires. 

Leila Alaoui’s “NO PASARA” is on display in the MMBA until April 30, 2017.

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