Eye-catching red banners descended the white cube walls, or in this case, white rotunda walls of The New York Guggenheim Museum on October 22, 2022.
Installed by a New York collective called Anonymous Artists for Iran, the banners protested the unjust killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. In early September, Amini was forcibly taken into police custody while visiting Tehran, the capital of Iran. She was killed in detainment. Her death has triggered protests throughout Iran, the U.K., and now the U.S. while outrage grows over the enforcement of the hijab law in Iran.
Since its enactment in 1981, the hijab law has been protested time and time again. As Muslim Girl writer Amirah Ahmed explains in her recent article “How To Speak About What’s Happening In Iran,” “The issue is not intrinsic to the hijab, which Islamically should never be imposed on any individual, but rather the hijab being used as a tool to control Muslim women— whether to force them to put it on, or take it off. The issue is choice.”
Ahmed goes on to say that “Unfortunately, any patriarchal society will find its own means to control women, such as American women’s fight against state governments for abortion rights. Islam is NOT the source of the problem: sexism, corruption, and power are.”
The anonymous artist collective brought this issue smack dab in the center of one of the most renowned and powerful museums in the entire world, but why there?
The Guggenheim Museum is like a major artery in the body that is the elite museum world. After Amini’s death and the thousands of protests to follow, The Guggenheim remained silent despite its tight grip on fiscal contributions from Iranian donors and works of art by Iranian artists like Passage by Shirin Neshat and Plan for Greater Baghdad by Ala Younis.
Evidently, the museum views the donations and works of art as independent of human rights in Iran. So, when the red banners punctured this major artery at its core, it called attention to voices who needed to be heard in a place that needed to listen.
Just seconds after the banners unfurled, a unanimous applause broke out amongst The Guggenheim visitors. This once-in-a-lifetime moment produced a feeling of triumph.
Even though the demonstration required the elite museum to quite literally partake in some internal reflection, the museum has yet to officially respond.
When something is out of sight, for many people it is out of mind, too. The protest placed this issue very much “in-sight,” altering its proximity to The Guggenheim visitors who stood before it. The viewers faced the issue head on.
Perhaps The Guggenheim will too.
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