Artists Activism Escalates in Full Throttle Stance Against Whitney Vice Chair Warren Kanders

Forensic Architecture and Praxis Films,  Triple Chaser  (still), 2019. Courtesy of the Artists.

Forensic Architecture and Praxis Films, Triple Chaser (still), 2019. Courtesy of the Artists.

Eight artists have now withdrawn from the Whitney Biennial over companies linked to Whitney Museum vice chairman Warren Kanders. New evidence this week links Sierra Bullets — a weapons manufacturer partially owned by Kanders -- to violence on the Israeli-Palestinian border in Gaza, reports Hyperallergic.

Safariland, a Jacksonville, Florida–based defense manufacturing company that produces triple chasers, is run by Warren Kanders. Hyperallergic has been active in detailing instances of Safariland products being used in politically fractious situations all over the globe, including the current border conflict running along America’s southern border with Mexico. Safariland specializes in “professional and protective equipment focused on the law enforcement, public safety, military, and recreational markets.”

In 2018, Forbes covered Kanders in a story Meet The Safariland Multimillionaire Getting Rich Off Tear Gas and More in the Defense Industry. Kanders’ involvement in producing tear gas, the chemical weapon of crowd control, is the most important focus on controversy between Kanders and activists worldwide. Kanders describes his company’s offerings as benign, rejecting activism against him personally and Swaziland’s tear gas production. “Whether it’s under Obama—he was fond of using these products very frequently—or under Bush or Clinton or whomever, we are there to make nonlethal products and to provide those products to friends of our government through very prescribed channels,” Kanders told Forbes.

The newest withdrawals from the biennial include the University of London-based research group Forensic Architecture , and their Whitney Biennial submission “Triple-Chaser” (2019). Now Forensic Architecture believes that they MAY — or its highly-likely — have found an unexploded open-tip bullet in the sand in Gaza.

In this link, Forensic Architecture details their investigation into the facts behind “Triple Chaser”, which includes events on the Tijuana-San Diego border.

The Forensic Architecture researcher, a lawyer and professor of political science who remains unnamed for security reasons, has worked in the occupied Palestinian territories for 15 years. She collected both eye witness testimony and ammunition rounds in Gaza in her collaboration with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras and Praxis Films, creators of “Triple-Chaser” (2019).

Not since the Sixties have artists been this engaged in political action.

Protests against governor Ricardo Rosselló in San Juan, Puerto Rico (courtesy Frances Negrón-Muntaner  via Hyperallergic .

Protests against governor Ricardo Rosselló in San Juan, Puerto Rico (courtesy Frances Negrón-Muntaner via Hyperallergic.

Artists are also leading the protests in Puerto Rico, demanding the resignation of the bigoted, corrupt governor Ricardo Rosselló. Even Fox News is reporting that the governor is AWOL, and his residence is under siege -- meaning the activists and artists are camped out there, demanding his resignation.

Like members of The Squad, the four Democratic Congresswoman who are in the crosshairs of Trump’s twitter rants, I look at these artists' voices as a critical barometer on the health of democracies around the world.

We don't all have to agree on every single action or issue in this growing protests moment. The challenge in America is to accept and encourage dissent, and be willing to join forces on the US Constitutional freedom to engage in civic protest and criticism.

At a time when Trump is trying to stamp out challenges to his authority -- painting us all as unpatriotic Communists and socialists if we reject him and his policies -- our protesting artists are critical to the dissent, and we must stand behind them.