Last Thursday, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City made a huge political statement in response to Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. Throughout the museum’s fifth floor, which is normally dedicated to Western modernist art between the 1880s and the 1940s, the museum has removed seven classic pieces by European artists—including Picasso and Matisse—and replaced them with work from artists who hail from some of the countries affected by the ban. Each work features this accompanying text:
This work is by an artist from a nation whose citizens are being denied entry into the United States, according to a presidential executive order issued on Jan. 27, 2017. This is one of several such artworks from the Museum’s collection installed throughout the fifth-floor galleries to affirm the ideals of welcome and freedom as vital to this Museum as they are to the United States.
It’s clearly a very strong message from the art world, and the MoMA plans to feature more artists from other countries affected by the ban in the coming weeks. But who are these artists? Let's meet them.
Armajani is a sculptor who was born in Iran in 1939 and moved to Minnesota to attend Macalester College in 1960, where he studied mathematics and philosophy. His work is literally a bridge between sculpture and architecture. He is known for his walking bridges, reading rooms, and gardens. The MoMA has put his 1990 piece Elements Number 30 on display.
Born in Russia in December of 1925 to an Armenian family, Grigorian was an influential Iranian-Armenian artist and is considered a pioneer of Iranian modern art. At the age of five his family moved to Iran, where he attended art school. He eventually opened one of the country's first modern art galleries. Grigorian is known for his experimentation with earth as a medium, using wood, soil, straw, even food to evoke the feeling of Iranian village life. Untitled from 1963, is on display at the MoMA.
Dame Zaha Hadid was a deeply accomplished architect born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1950. In 2004 she became the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize, the most prestigious architecture award in the world. She gave a new, futuristic and imaginative life to architectural geometry and her designs were expressive and innovative. The MOMA is displaying her 1991 painting, The Peak Project, Hong Kong, China, her award-winning design for a private health club in Hong Kong that was never built.
Born in Iran in 1981, Madani is known for her satirical, absurd, and provocative paintings and animations. Her pieces subvert the primitivity of masculinity and machoism, often gleefully toying around with the ideas of violence, terrorism, and sex. The MoMA has put her animation Chit Chat on display.
Considered one of the most influential modern African artists, el-Salahi was born in Omdurman, Sudan, in 1930. His work incorporates European, African, and Islamic imagery and traditions to create a signature geometric, surreal style. He is the first African artist to have a retrospective at the Tate. el-Salahi’s The Mosque from 1964 is currently on display at the MoMA.
The Zurich-based photographer was born in Tehran in 1974. Her art takes inspiration from classical art, and recontextualizes genres like still life, portraiture, and landscape in different media whether photography, painting, or even hand-woven carpets. Her Composition-40-2011 photo is on display.
Charles Hossein Zenderoudi
Zenderoudi is a highly influential artist, credited with creating the genre of Saqqakhana art, Iran’s contemporary art movement which lies at the intersection of Western contemporary art, traditional Iranian folk imagery, and Islamic iconography. His 1962 piece K+L+32+H+4. Mon père et moi (My Father and I) has been put on display.
Born in 1937 in Tehran, Tanavoli is considered the country’s most renowned living artist. Probably best known for his “heech” works (sculptures and pieces involving the letters that spell “heech,” which means “nothing” in Farsi), he was a member of the aforementioned Saqqakhana movement. The MoMA has put his sculpture The Prophet on display.