Members of Art V War, an artist and activist group, protested the Whitney Museum of American Art’s vice chairman and his ownership of a controversial defense company—which supplied the tear gas that border agents recently deployed against Central American asylum seekers—by installing an unauthorized work at the New York City museum today (December 10).


An emailed statement from Art V War organizer Rafael Shimunov notes that the art draws from Kim Kyung-Hoon’s photograph of Honduras native Maria Meza and daughters Cheili and Saira running from a tear gas cannister’s fumes, as well as another of Cheili crying. The family came to the United States-Mexico border with the migrant caravan of asylum seekers in late November. Shimunov sent Colorlines the following images of each panel: 

Photo: Zach Schulman Photography/Provided by Art V War Photo of illustration of Latinx mother and two daughters in multicolored clothing running away from gray gas of tear gas canister in front of other Latinx people on brown sand and in front of blue sky Portion of "Mother and two daughters in Tijuana, Mexico." Provided to Colorlines on December 10, 2018.

Photo: Zach Schulman Photography/Provided by Art V War Photo of illustration of Latinx woman and girl crying in multicolored clothing in front of brown sand and multicolored border structures in brown frame on brown wall Portion of "Mother and two daughters in Tijuana, Mexico." Provided to Colorlines on December 10, 2018.

The installation also includes a piece of paper that credits the art to Warren B. Kanders, who the Whitney Museum lists online as a co-chairman of its board of trustees. Hyperallergic reported last month that Kanders also owns Safariland, a defense manufacturer that developed the tear gas canisters used against the caravan. Safariland also created Instantaneous Blast CS grenades used against Indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock.

Photo: Zach Schulman Photography/Provided by Art V WarBlack text on white piece of paper reads Title and attribution of "Mother and two daughters in Tijuana, Mexico," provided to Colorlines on December 10, 2018.

The paper points readers to a hashtag, #WhitneyTearGas, and Shimunov’s petition demanding that the museum’s board and administrative leaders denounce Kanders’ “oppression profiteering.” The petition also calls for Kanders to resign. 

Art V War’s action comes mere days after two other protests against Kanders—an open letter from nearly 100 Whitney Museum employees that demands the board to answer to Kanders’ profiteering, and another protest by a multiracial activist group called Decolonize This Place on the museum grounds. ArtNews published Kanders’ response to Whitney Museum staffers. In it, he denies personal responsibility for how law enforcement entities use Safariland’s products.