American Museum of Natural History Drops Gala for Brazil’s Far-Right President Bolsonaro Following Backlash

In further news: Parents call on Harvard Art Museums to remove Sackler name; Cuban artist-activist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara arrested

Greenpeace activists stage protest in the Old City of Jerusalem with a a message for the visiting Brazilian president, April 2019. Courtesy: Getty Images/AFP; photograph: Ohad Zwigenberg

Greenpeace activists stage protest in the Old City of Jerusalem with a a message for the visiting Brazilian president, April 2019. Courtesy: Getty Images/AFP; photograph: Ohad Zwigenberg

The American Museum of Natural History in New York will no longer host a gala event honouring Brazil’s far-right president. The black-tie event, organized by an outsider nonprofit, the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce – in which Jair Bolsonaro was to be named ‘person of the year’ – has been dropped by the museum after a public backlash. Critics included New York’s mayor Bill de Blasio, who described Bolsonaro as a ‘very dangerous human being.’ Several science professionals questioned how an institution dedicated to nature could provide a platform for a climate change sceptic who has actively promoted the deregulation of environmental protections. Employees and researchers at the American Museum of Natural History issued an open letter addressed to museum president Ellen Futter which read in part: ‘The Museum claims to be a champion for protecting and promoting biodiversity, which is wholly inconsistent with honouring a president who has pushed an agenda of aggressive anti-environmentalist policies, climate change denial, and extractive development in the Brazilian Amazon.’ Following the out-cry the museum said in a joint statement with the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce: ‘With mutual respect for the work and goals of our individual organizations, we have jointly agreed that the Museum is not the optimal location for the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce gala dinner.’ Don’t miss Fernanda Brenner writing for frieze on what the election of Bolsonaro means for the Brazilian art world.

Cuban artist and activist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has been arrested on the eve of the Havana Biennial. His whereabouts are currently unknown after he was arrested outside his home in Havana while performing an artwork which pays homage to Cuban activist Daniel Llorente, who stormed a May Day parade wrapped in an American flag in 2017 (Llorente is still imprisoned). The artist Coco Fusco was also denied entry into Cuba ahead of the biennial. Fusco wrote: ‘I’m not the first or the last intellectual with close ties to Cuba who has been punished in this way for expressing my views and advocating for greater freedom of expression in Cuba. It has become a sad routine’.

Parents of children who have fatally overdosed on opioids are calling on Harvard University to drop the Sackler name from one of its art museums. Parents staged a protest on Friday outside Harvard’s Arthur M. Sackler Museum. Members of the Sackler family own the company Purdue Pharma which marketed the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin, linked to the US opioid crisis. A Harvard spokesperson clarified the museum’s relation to the late Arthur M. Sackler, noting that he passed away prior to the development of OxyContin: ‘Dr. Sackler died in 1987, before Oxycontin was developed and marketed. Given these circumstances and legal and contractual considerations, Harvard does not have plans to remove Dr. Sackler’s name from the museum.’

In awards news: Recipients of the USD$100,000 Katthy Cavaliere Fellowship have been announced – Frances Barrett, Giselle Stanborough, and Sally Rees; and the American Academy in Rome has named the recipients of its 2019-20 Rome Prize and Italian Fellowships – winners in the visual arts category are Garrett Bradley, David Brooks, James Casebere, Sarah Crowner and John Jesurun.

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