FTP’s Formation: The Role of Decolonize This Place
Despite the decentralized role of DTP in the FTP formation, it is imperative to analyze the trajectory of DTP’s previous work in targeting cultural institutions around New York City within the context of FTP as a movement. In doing so, we can observe a confrontation of injustice and political struggle at not only an institutional, but a site specific level. As opposed to taking a more symbolic approach to protest, previous DTP actions (as well as FTP) sought to target the very site of the occurring injustice. In 2016, the Brooklyn Museum housed a photography show entitled “This Place,” a multi-million dollar exhibition featuring beautiful photographs of Israel/Palestine. Despite the beauty of the art, it was devoid of context concerning the ongoing occupation of Palestine and the array of political struggles taking place there. In response, DTP formed to literally occupy and decolonize “This Place” as an exhibition. However, rather than seeing this as a standalone incident, DTP viewed the struggles present in Palestine as being interconnected with struggles experienced on the ground in the United States, as well as in New York City specifically. Saffore spoke to this interconnectedness;
We learned that if you are going to talk about Palestine, you can’t talk about what's going on over there, without talking about what is happening over here, on this land. If you are fighting for Palestine here in the United States, you need to take a look at yourself, particularly if you are a settler, and think about what decolonization means on this land. Of course, this land is stolen land built by stolen bodies. From there, you start to think about Black liberation and displacement and dispossession (Saffore, Interview on January, 30 2021).
Within New York City, cultural institutions such as the Brooklyn Museum are often vanguards of gentrification and displacement within the urban landscape. In examining the role of such an institution within New York, even through analyzing a single exhibition on a global scale, many of the same injustices are brought to light across varied struggles: liberation, land sovereignty, access to housing, transportation, food, education, healthcare, and more. The phenomenon present in the exhibition “This Place,” is one which both interviewees referred to as “art washing,” a process which uses art as a means to disregard the harm that an institution imposes on both a local and a global scale.
Following the action at the Brooklyn Museum, DTP proceeded to occupy various cultural institutions across New York, such as the Whitney Museum, the Guggenheim, and the American Museum of Natural History. In each case, there was a confrontation between the institution itself and the myriad of struggles those institutions sought to art wash. For the Whitney Museum, it was the production of chemical weapons overseas. For the Guggenheim, it was the question of global wage work in “near enslavement” conditions in the construction of a Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi. Lastly, the action at the American Museum of Natural History sought to confront the possession of stolen artifacts and the colonial narrative behind the existence of the institution itself.In addition to these actions, DTP had cultivated connections, coalition, and solidarity with a plethora of community and activist groups throughout New York City in years prior. Among them were entities such as Take Back the Bronx, Why Accountability, Indigenious Kinship Collective, Free CUNY, NYC Shut It Down, Chinatown Art Brigade, Comité Boricua En La Diáspora, and more (Reed, Interview on February 22, 2021).
Cultural institutions such as museums and public infrastructure like the MTA surely serve different purposes within New York City. In spite of these differences, the injustices present across the board remain overlapping, and indicative of the same key points of struggle. As such, DTP as a group has sought to thread together these various strands of struggle as one conducive argument and demand: indigenious struggles, Black Liberation, Free Palestine, de-gentrification, dismantle patriarchy, and protect global wage workers. In taking these demands to the site of injustice and confronting them on an institutional level, the script is then flipped completely by tearing down the illusion that these institutions are “untouchable.” Despite marked differences between the sites targeted, the FTP formation’s confrontation with the MTA was no different at its core. Reed explained that, FTP was both a continuation and a strategic advancement of [previous] work, because it was the first time that all of these organizations and collectives came together and focused on these themes, related to capitalism, policing, gentrification, and multi-ethnic direct action, as it related to a non cultural institution that was centrally important to New Yorkers. So, the increased and violent policing in the MTA, alongside the gutting of the MTA budget and transit worker union jobs was the catalyst, but these radical interventions had not yet been done at a mass working class site of logistics and transit needed to get to jobs or get to homes. This was an important development, because it was not a kind of symbolic representation of harm, but the very site of the place that was trying to be transformed (Reed, Interview on February 22, 2021).