BY MICHAEL COLE-SCHWARTZ, AMALIA KOZLOFF, and ALYSSA PIZARRO
Recently, several museum visitors have raised concern about Ye (also known as Kanye West)’s inclusion in our exhibition Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop.
As we continue to engage in conversation internally and with our exhibition partners, we want to be transparent about our position and how we consider these questions.
At MoPOP, we are in solidarity with our Jewish community and firmly denounce any form of Jew-hatred and antisemitism. We also acknowledge that hate speech, like Ye's, leads to real-world violence.
As an organization, we are working to build our understanding of those most impacted by white supremacy, bigotry, and systemic oppression, recognizing the “-isms” that pollute our world and knowing we cannot be bystanders to them. We recognize that among the pillars of white supremacy are antisemitism and anti-Blackness, and only in addressing both can we work toward the world we want to live in.
How this work translates into our responsibilities as a museum — including the kinds of exhibitions we host, the creators and creations we spotlight, the programs we offer, the training we provide our staff, and more — is something we constantly grapple with. In fact, we believe these are exactly the kinds of conversations that we’re meant to engage in as an educational institution.
We work to take critical, sensitive, and thoughtful approaches to these issues, and we invite others to think about some of the questions that come up for us, including:
- Is art an extension of the creator or is the art a separate entity entirely? Where might those lines be drawn and how would those distinctions matter? How do we honor work that contributes to our culture, apart from the creator? Is that possible?
- When might a creator tarnish a creation? What if they are among many contributors?
- What harm might occur in celebrating art (and by extension its creator) and what could we do to mitigate that harm?
- Which creators are society quick to clap back at versus which are more likely to be given a pass? Is severity against some creators a function of bias, racism, or another form of oppression? What is the right response in those cases, especially with an aim of harm reduction?
Fame doesn't automatically make you a good (or bad) person and when we celebrate art and artists, that doesn’t mean we celebrate everything about them. In fact, we believe we have a responsibility to shine a light on difficult truths, providing context and a chance for proactive dialogue about how we can all be better — an aspiration that will always be a work in progress. This is especially true with pop culture, which pervades our daily lives and exists in a rapidly evolving ecosystem. We also believe that removing someone from our consciousness doesn’t erase hate — that is something only dialogue, openness, and understanding the impact of hate can.
With that in mind, we have made an intentional decision not to remove the photograph of Ye from the exhibition, and instead have shared this blog post and the resources the follow below.
While the questions we posed are important — and the dialogue around them critical to making substantive change — asking them alone is insufficient. To that end, we are working on a number of initiatives including: planning and seeking funding for a diversity, equity, and inclusion-based audit of our exhibitions and permanent collection, which will also provide a framework for other institutions to do similar work; building a framework for evaluating and acting on problematic material; broadening the perspectives at the table with a Community Advisory Board; exploring antisemitism training for staff; adding additional content and links to resources in the Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop exhibition, and more.
Already we have initiated recurring DEI training for staff and contractors over the past two years; hired a Senior Manager of Equity and Inclusion; offered accessibility training for all staff and contractors; and more.
As we work to fully embody our values in pursuing our mission, we invite your comments and feedback. In listening and learning with our community, we can constantly improve and remain a place that brings people together through a shared love of pop culture.
Thank you for being on this journey with us.
Resources to learn more:
A Short History of Antisemitism (Teen Vogue)
Antisemitic Ideology (Southern Poverty Law Center)
Guide to Antisemitic Tropes (Anti-Defamation League)
Fact Sheet on the Elements of Antisemitic Discourse (The Brandeis Center)
White Nationalism in America (Facing History & Ourselves)
Then and Now: Black-Jewish Relations in the Civil Rights Movement (Penn Today)
Editorials on Antisemitism, Anti-Blackness, and White Supremacy Culture
Skin in the Game (Political Research Associates)
Race and responsibility: A Conversation on Black-Jewish relations and the Fight for Equal Justice (hosted by University of California at Berkley)
History of White Supremacy in America (Rolling Stone)