[Update as of June 5, 2018: The Pit has issued a statement in reply to this open letter. The response of the cultural workers who drafted the letter has been published in Hyperallergic, and is appended below. We are still accepting signatories.]
The Armenian cultural workers who drafted this open letter, and its over 100 signatories, called for a response. What the Pit has issued is not a response, but a “response.” The statement released by the gallery performs the erasures it claims to address. It participates in a genre we have collectively come to know well: the cultural institution’s hollow apology delivered as tersely and cursorily as possible in order to return to business as usual. Armenian cultural workers have been contacting the Pit since April 26th, explaining why the exclusion of immigrant communities at our present juncture produces dangerous effects that reverberate beyond gallery walls, economically and politically. This statement does not address their concerns, but rather provides justifications for those exclusions. We are not, as the Pit describes us, “divided and angered.” We are united in our commitment to safeguarding our communities against the erasures and displacements of gentrification. The Pit’s statement closes with the nebulous intention to “do better in the future.” We would like to invite the Pit to do better now. For the cultural workers who drafted this open letter, the boycott stands.
We are writing to tell you about the city of Glendale, California where you opened in 2014. We are writing to tell you about the immigrant communities whose erasure you are enacting. We request an immediate response.
We are calling for a boycott of the Pit Gallery.
We have asked you, whose culture has capital? Your silence declares that ours does not. By dismissing our queries and blocking us on social media, you tell us that our outcry against our own invisibility does not warrant a response. By refusing to address our concerns, you entrench the position that we are not legible as cultural producers, cultural stakeholders, or participants in our city’s cultural sphere.
We are writing to remind you that your exhibition, Vision Valley: The Glendale Biennial, is hosted at a publicly funded municipal venue in Glendale, the Brand Art Center. You describe the exhibition as “a celebration of artists working in a specific community.” We are writing to remind you that the show is staged in a 40 percent Armenian neighborhood, the largest diasporic population of Armenians in the US. Among its roster of 32 predominately white artists, zero are Armenian. While your exhibition includes no Armenian artists, it does include all three directors of the Pit, as well as its gallery associate.
We are writing to tell you that you launched your gallery amid a wave of economic violence in Glendale and across Los Angeles, resulting in the formation of the Glendale Tenants Union in 2017 and the coalitions Defend Boyle Heights and ChinatownCommunity for Equitable Development. The latter two have called for city-wide boycotts of or actions against gentrifying agents. We are writing to tell you that we are prepared to defend our communities from erasure and displacement.
We are writing to tell you that by excluding Glendale’s Armenian, Filipinx, Korean, and Latinx population in favor of a majority white roster, you are performing what Aruna D’Souza calls whitewalling and its racialized exclusions.
This is not our first attempt to inform you.
Community members voiced concerns about your exhibition. You declined to revise the curatorial framework or issue a public response. The City of Glendale asked that you change the title of the exhibition. You removed “Glendale Biennial” quietly from the exhibition materials without public acknowledgment or apology. You continue to use “#theglendalebiennial” on your social media, claiming an inalienable right to take ownership of this city. An Armenian cultural worker asked about your continued use of the title. You blocked her from your account. On May 27th, an essay was published in the Los Angeles Review of Books detailing your erasure of Glendale’s immigrant communities. You have not responded. The essay was widely circulated among your networks and appeared in various media outlets. You were tagged. Still, you have not responded.
In lieu of a reply, you posted an image to your Instagram account on June 1st:
[This post was removed by the Pit on June 4th, hours before the intended publication of this letter.]
It appears to feature the Japanese superhero “Ultraman” (invoked here as your avatar), who protects the earth from siege by a monstrous nonhuman menace—presumably, us. You have emblazoned the words “WE CAN’T BE STOPPED!” above the image in all caps, with the Pit logo below. The image articulates a symbolic threat against immigrant communities who would critique your actions. It drolly positions Glendale’s immigrant communities as nonhuman. You are planning to turn this image into a t-shirt that will be given away to gallery attendees.
If it is your belief that your neocolonialist civilizing mission “can’t be stopped,” and that your exhibition’s vision of whitewashed futurity in Glendale is an inexorable reality; we are writing to tell you that you are mistaken.
We are defined by a radical refusal to disappear. We call for an immediate public response. We call for a boycott of the Pit Gallery.
The following individuals and organizations in Glendale, and their allies near and far, call for a boycott of the Pit Gallery and urge the Pit to issue an immediate public response.
Mashinka Firunts Hakopian, Artist/Scholar, UCLA Meldia Yesayan, Cultural Worker Gilda Davidian, Independent Artist Anahid Yahjian, Independent Filmmaker Aram Saroyan, Poet/Artist Jacob Halajian, Filmmaker Nora Kayserian, Educator Grey James, Independent Artist Raffi Wartanian, Columbia University Nancy Agabian, Author/Professor, New York University Shahé Mankerian, Principal of St. Gregory Hovsepian School/Poet Arminé Iknadossian, Artist/Poet Johaina Crisostomo, UC Berkeley Carina Karapetian Giorgi, Professor of Sociology Suzy Halajian, Independent Curator Ara Madzounian, Filmmaker/Photographer Thea Farhadian, Independent Musician/Composer/Educator Daniel Scott Snelson, Assistant Professor, UCLA Virginia Arce, Independent Curator Kamee Abrahamian, Independent Artist Sona Tatoyan, Actor/Writer Linda Ganjian, Independent Artist Vahe Berberian, Artist/Writer Kareem Estefan, Art Critic/Scholar Katy Robinson, Mountain House Stefani Greenwood, Designer Audrey Chan, Independent Artist Kristy Lovich, Culture-Domestic Worker, Mountain House Hasmik Geghamyan, Educator/Lawyer Carol Zou, Cultural Worker Dawn Finley, Independent Scholar/Caregiver Maryam Hosseinzadeh, Cultural Worker Erich Wise, Artist Fiona Yun-Jui Chang, Independent Artist Eileen Ybarra, Librarian/Meditation Instructor Joanne Nucho, Anthropologist/Filmmaker, Pomona College Dina Dean, Independent Artist Ani Zakarian, Independent Artist Robert Nazar Arjoyan, Garuna Film Group Dennis R. Greenwood, Educator Anna Nersesyan, Independent Filmmaker Michael Thurin, Independent Artist Lousine Shamamian, Gay and Lesbian Armenian Society Board Member, Performer and Filmmaker Victoria Martin, Pasadena City College Photography Professor – Retired Woody O’Toole, Independent artist/JJU Collective Molly Tierney, Independent Artist /JJU Collective Nicole Darling, Artist/Poet/Filmmaker/Writer/Critic Jennifer Witte, Bookseller Sarah Williams, Women’s Center for Creative Work Iggy Cortez, Scholar Ani Khodaverdian, Independent Entertainment Industry Attorney Bogdan Bagdasarov, Independent Artist lee williams boudakian, Independent Artist Jake Harkey, Stylist Ali Leeds, Independent Artist Amitis Motevalli, Artist Mahyar Nili, Artist, Psychotherapist Armineh Hovanesian, Independent Photographer Young-Tseng Wong, Independent Artist Arshia Haq, Artist Victoria Aleksanyan, Independent Filmmaker Von Curtis, Artist/Poet/Filmmaker/Scholar Johanna Cypis, Independent Artist Jennifer Wilson, Assistant Professor Anuradha Vikram, 18th Street Art Center Alex Lewin, Independent Artist Morgan Lariah, Filmmaker Hayk Makhmuryan, Cultural Worker Dahlia Elsayed, Artist/Associate Professor CUNY Roksana Filipowska, Scholar, University of Pennsylvania Kim Calder, UCLA Department of English Suzana Poghosyan, Owner/ Honey Pump Gallery Kelsey Halliday Johnson, Independent Artist/SPACE Aram Jibilian, Artist/Social Worker Jamie Patterson, Freelance Visual Researcher Gwen Comings, Independent Artist Rosy Kuftedjian, Artist Shoghig Halajian, Curator Taryn Haydostian, Independent Artist Narineh Mirzaeian, Design Faculty A.UD UCLA Amin Husain, MTL Collective Christina Lehmejian-Karaszewski, None Shaun Gannon, Independent Poet Alan Serna, Feral Press Carmina Escobar, Independent Artist Nelly Sarkissian, Art Director Lynn Hilloowala, Futurecollect Mariam Arzuyan, Independent Artist Tamar Salibian, MFA, Media Studies PhD Candidate, Claremont Graduate University Ani Ishkhanian, Independent Artist Seda Mimaroğlu, Independent Poet Sevana Panosian, Poet/Teacher Nathalie Halajian, Student Nicole Burmeister, Artist/Student Román Luján, Poet/Translator Soyoung Shin, Independent Artist Kiyaan Abadani, Artist Emily Mkrtichian, Filmmaker Khosrov Melkonyan, Independent Artist Nancy Kricorian, Writer Myriam Vanneschi, Curator Giorgia Ohanesian Nardin, Independent Artist Kassandra Brown, Independent artist Anh Bui, Independent Curator. Root Division Studio Artist James Hoff, Artist / Co-Founder of Primary Information Patricia Kim, Scholar Aram Arevian, Independent Fashion Stylist Sophia Armen, Writer, Organizer & Scholar Jibade-Khalil Huffman, Artist/Writer Anahit Poturyan, Scholar/Writer Serli Lala, Artist Alina Gregorian, Poet & Artist Sasha Ali, Moozis iris yirei hu, Artist Decolonize This Place / MTL+, Artist as Organizer Theresa Masangkay Pagán, Independent Artist and Frequent Visitor to the Brand Library and Park Anhie Nguyen, Producer Natessa Amin, Independent Artist Nina R Salerno, Artist Lauren Iverson, Filmmaker Dave Cowen, Independent Writer Naira Harutyunyan, Student Manuk Avedikyan, Independent Scholar/Musician Gonzalo Reyes Rodriguez, Artist/Adjunct Professor – at large Gelare Khoshgozaran, Artist and Writer Avram Alpert, Writer Vart Rose Derderian, Independent Attorney Alysse Stepanian, Independent Artist/Curator Vana Gerard, Business Owner Patricia Rhodes, Independent Archivist, Media Artist Becket Mingwen Flannery, Artist and Writer Eiren Shea, Grinnell College Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement / Boyle Heights Alianza Anti Artwashing y Desplazamiento (BHAAAD), Anti-Gentrification Coalition Prof Anahid Kassabian, Liverpool Arab Arts Festival Aram Atamian, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Independent Artist Ani Tatintsyan, Independent Artist Armen Karaoghlanian, Armenian Film Society Mary Karaoghlanian, Armenian Film Society Ana Iwataki, Curator, Writer, Translator Kristina Newhouse, Curator, University Art Museum, CSULB Rachel McNevin, Independent Writer Jessica Ceballos y Campbell, Independent interdisciplinarian, poet, publisher, community activist, tenants rights activist Leesa Abahuni, Independent Artist Harsha Devaraj, Artist/Gallery Assistant at the Stamps Gallery Jimena Sarno, Artist and Organizer Philip Mantione, Composer and Sound Artist Kaitlynn Redell, Independent Artist and Educator Lesley Moon, Independent Personal Trainer and Artist Clarice Adams, Independent Scholar Nina Mamikunian, Librarian/Writer Gordon Faylor, Open Space (SFMOMA) Julie Jung, Independent Artist Susan Park, Independent Writer/Scholar Avo Stepanian, Electrical and Automation Engineer, Cal Poly SLO Joseph Imhauser, NYU Mark Francis Johnson, Poet Andrew Horwitz, Independent Critic and Curator Scott Snelson, Educator Dr. Noobar Janoian, Doctor/Founder of All For Health/Community Activist Sona Van, Independent Poet, Author, Publisher Faith Coloccia, Composer, Musician, Artist Kim Garcia, Artist Thomas Simsarian Dolan, PhD Candidate, George Washington University Artemisa Clark, Independent Artist Kari Robertson, Independent Artist/Filmmaker Santiago Pinyol, Carne Gallery