Activists Unfurl Massive Quilt for Gaza on Met Museum Steps

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On a sunny but cold Sunday afternoon, hundreds of pro-Palestine activists unfurled a massive quilt on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, calling for an end to Israel’s hostilities in Gaza. The action, which began around 12:40pm today, March 24, attracted over 350 participants. 

Titled “From Occupation to Liberation,” the quilt was comprised of 65 artworks by various anonymous artists, some featuring traditional Palestinian taṭrīz embroidery. Other squares referenced poet Refaat Alareer, who was killed by Israeli bombardments in Gaza, and Thomas Kilpper’s “Jenin Horse” (2003) — a 16-foot sculpture that previously stood in the West Bank city of Jenin before it was removed by Israeli forces in late October. As the quilt was spread out across the museum’s main entrance, activists encircled the display, carrying signs that read “We See Genocide,” “Let Gaza Live,” and “None Of Us Are Free Until Palestine Is Free.”

Simultaneously, protesters chanted phrases such as “Free Palestine” and “Art for Liberation, Not for Colonization” while various groups put on performances in reference to Palestinian dabkeh folk dance.

The action attracted about 350 participants.

Organizers of the protest told Hyperallergic that the artwork was modeled after the historic NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Prints of the quilt are also available for purchase onlineAll proceeds will go to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the humanitarian relief organization that aids Palestinian refugees in Gaza and elsewhere, recently targeted by Israel and the US. The action came barely a week after the release of a group open letter signed by 158 Met workers urging the institution’s Director and Chief Executive Officer Max Hollein to issue a statement in support of a ceasefire and address Israel’s destruction of Palestine.

No arrests were made, despite heavy police presence ahead of the protest. Patrons were still able to enter and exit the museum, some approached by protesters who handed out mock Met brochures. 

The protesters handed out mock Met Museum brochures.

Urging people to “Dump the Fine Art of Imperialism,” the brochures called out the museum’s role in upholding colonialist power structures. They cited The Met’s physical location on Indigenous Lenape land, as well as its ties to Israeli violence via trustees and donors including Michael Steinhardt, Ronald S. Lauder, and Ted Pick.

There were a few confrontations between the demonstrators and passersby, some escalating to shouting matches. Other bystanders welcomed the protest, some even joining in. Flor Sarna, a tourist from New Mexico, told Hyperallergic she was “pleasantly surprised“ by the action. Jacki Steiger, a museum visitor on a business trip from Los Angeles, said they were “overwhelmed,” but “glad to see so many people out” in support of Palestinians. 

The protesters held signs that read “Cease Occupation” and “Zionism Is Terrorism.”

“Everyone has a responsibility to speak up and to do what they can to spread information about the genocide in Gaza,” said actor Rowan Blanchard, who participated in the action, pointing out the significant platform that the museum holds, especially as the annual Met Gala approaches.

The Met declined to comment on the protest. The protesters’ original plan to march toward the Neue Galerie and Guggenheim Museum up Fifth Avenue was scrapped in the interest of safety. The group dispersed peacefully around 2:30pm. 

The quilt featured about 65 artworks by different artists.

Editor’s note 3/25/24 10:45am EST: This article was updated with additional context about an open letter signed by Met museum workers in solidarity with Palestine.

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