The artist collective Godzilla has withdrawn from a planned retrospective dedicated to its activism at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) to protest the New York museum’s “complicity” in a city plan to build a new jail in Chinatown.
In a letter to MOCA on March 5, the group announced its withdrawal from the exhibition Godzilla vs. The Art World: 1990-2001, slated for May. The letter was signed by 19 members of the collective, among them artists like Tomie Arai, Todd Ayoung, Shelly Bahl, and Alexandra Chang.
“We cannot, in good conscience, entrust the legacy of Godzilla as an artist activist organization, to a cultural institution whose leadership ignores, and even seeks to silence critical voices from its community,” Godzilla’s letter read. “The complicity of MOCA’s leadership with the jail plan amounts to supporting the system of mass incarceration and policing that disproportionately affect Black and Brown lives.”
MOCA has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.
At the crux of the withdrawal is New York City’s plan to replace the infamous Rikers Island jail complex with four borough-based jails, including one at 125 White Street in Chinatown. As part of a “community give-back” deal proposed by the city to impacted boroughs, MOCA is expected to receive $35 million for a permanent home and a performing arts space. (The museum’s main building is currently located at Centre Street; its archive on the nearby Mulberry Street was severely damaged in a fire last February.)
Local social justice advocates and prison abolition groups, including Chinatown Art Brigade (CAB) and Chinatown-International District (CID), have vociferously opposed the plan, accusing MOCA of benefiting from mass incarceration. But in January, MOCA posted a statement on its website asserting that it “has always been unalterably opposed to building a jail in Chinatown,” adding that its position on this jail expansion plan “may not have been understood by some individuals who advocate for Chinatown.”
“[T]he MOCA team has expressed MOCA’s opposition to a Chinatown jail in public interviews, conversations, and meetings with hundreds of people across the spectrum of Chinatown organizations, Asian American organizations, and community advocacy groups since plans were first announced in August 2018,” the statement said. The museum continued to say that it has documented the activism against the jail plan “as an important part of the history of activism in Chinatown.”
In response to MOCA, the group said the museum’s January statement “grossly misrepresents its past and present position and how its leadership sought to actually benefit from the jail construction — an initiative that has been documented on video, audio and in transcripts.”
Members of the activist cohort added that they are “deeply disappointed that MOCA has not lived up to its reputation and responsibility as a ‘trusted community anchor’ and National Treasure.”
“How can we exhibit our work within the walls of an institution when the values of
its leadership betray our own founding principles?” they asked.