Metropolitan Museum of Art employees demand action on Gaza

19th century palestinian robe. Photo: Public domain, courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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On Monday, March 11, workers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art delivered an open letter to the museum’s Director Max Hollein, asking the Met to take steps to protect Palestinians and the cultural heritage of Palestine. Signed by 158 staff, fellows and volunteers, the letter includes three proposals for what the workers think the museum can and should do in response to the destruction of cultural heritage sites in Gaza.

Maura Falfan, a Security Officer at the Met, expressed her support: “As a security guard and artist, I will stand for the preservation of artifacts produced by all civilizations and will strive to protect life, particularly of the innocent.”

You can follow the new group on Instagram @metworkers4palestine, and read their open letter here.

Concerning the Destruction of Cultural Heritage Sites in Gaza
February 1, 2024

To Director Max Hollein:

We, the staff, fellows, and volunteers of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA) are writing to express our concern about the destruction in Gaza and to motivate MMA to take a stand in defense of Palestinians and the cultural heritage of Palestine.

Since the violent attack by Hamas on October 7, 2023, Israel has imposed massive destruction in Gaza. As of today, 27,000 Gazans have been killed – including more than 10,000 children. In addition to this, most buildings in Gaza have been destroyed, including precious cultural heritage sites and arts institutions. More than 100 mosques have been destroyed, including Gaza’s oldest, the Great Omari Mosque. The third oldest church in the world, the Church of St. Porphyrios, was bombed, as was the Hamman al-Sammara, an ancient bathhouse in the historic Jewish Quarter. Museums have also been attacked, including the Rafah Museum, the Rashad El Shawa Cultural Center, and the Al Qarara Cultural Museum which held pieces dating to the Bronze Age. Over 200 Palestinian cultural heritage sites have been destroyed.

To best fulfill our mission, it is imperative that MMA take a stand now to protect the life and cultural heritage of Gaza. To this end we ask MMA to take three bold initiatives:

1. Publish a statement calling for an end to the bombing of Gaza.

The MMA has a proud history of standing for the protection of cultural heritage sites in times of war. In 2001, when the Taliban planned to destroy the Buddhist Bamiyan Statues, MMA took a pioneering position among museums to oppose the destruction. In 2022, MMA condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the destruction of Kuindzhi Art Museum. And in 2020 MMA took a bold stand, even against our own government, when then-President Donald Trump threatened to destroy Iranian cultural heritage sites. MMA issued this moving statement:

“The targeting of sites of global cultural heritage is abhorrent to the collective values of our society. Our world knows precisely what is gained from protecting cultural sites, and tragically, what is lost when destruction and chaos prevail. At this challenging time, we must remind ourselves of the global importance of protecting cultural sites – the objects and places by which individuals, communities, and nations connect to their history and heritage. Today’s leaders and citizens have many profound responsibilities – protecting lives, and protecting the precious legacy of generations before us, as it is from these shared places of cultural heritage that we gain the wisdom to secure safe and better futures.”

We ask that MMA take that stand again now.

2. Take steps to better attribute and showcase our collection of Palestinian artworks.

We are impressed with how the MMA responded to the war in Ukraine, by updating our catalog to properly reflect artists’ Ukrainian identity, and by highlighting Ukrainian masterpieces in our galleries. We ask MMA to review its collection of Palestinian artworks, correct inaccurate attributions, and highlight Palestinian masterpieces in our galleries and online.

3. Protect the voices of staff who express horror at the massive loss of life and who lament the destruction of Gaza’s cultural heritage.

Since this war began, the art world has seen widespread retaliation against cultural workers who oppose the destruction in Gaza. There is now fear of backlash among workers who would like to speak out. As workers of this institution, we hope MMA will keep a higher moral and professional standard. We ask MMA to listen to our concern with respect, and not retaliate against any staff member who signs this letter. The MMA must welcome this expression with understanding and kindness.

Attacking the museums, mosques and churches and other cultural centers of Palestine is an attack on the connection of the Palestinian people with their own land. But because of Palestine’s unique position in history, to destroy their cultural heritage is also to destroy a central part of our shared global heritage. As the greatest art museum in the world MMA has a responsibility here. We hope that MMA will take this letter to heart and implement the three initiatives described above.

Signed 158 Metropolitan Museum of Art staff, fellows, and volunteers.

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