Updated May 9, 2024 - News

Artist claims censorship after pro-Palestine work removed from Miami Beach exhibit

A blank storefront where an art exhibit was once displayed

An empty storefront where a pro-Palestinian artwork was previously displayed. Photo: Sommer Brugal/Axios

The removal of pro-Palestinian artwork in Miami Beach has led to complaints of censorship and calls for the Oolite Arts board chair to resign.

Why it matters: The public artwork, displayed at a Walgreens storefront since March, uses the controversial phrase "From the river to the sea," a rallying cry used by protesters against the Israel-Hamas war.

Catch up quick: The Oolite exhibit, "How We Live Like Water," pairs photos of the Jordan River with the Atlantic Ocean to "call for peace and justice in the face of ongoing injustices," according to artist Khánh Nguyên Hoàng Vũ.

Vũ says one of Oolite's interim co-directors told them the decision was in response to complaints from "a group of Jewish lawyers" who found the work's political message offensive.

  • Vũ says they were told the piece violated Oolite's diversity, equity and inclusion code.
A postage sticker says "from the river to the sea" and features a Palestinian flag.
A postage sticker at the Walgreens where the Oolite Arts exhibit was displayed. Photo: Sommer Brugal/Axios

The latest: By Thursday, the piece was no longer displayed at the Walgreens on Collins Avenue and 67th Street.

  • In its place, someone affixed multiple postage stickers on the store's windows reiterating the "river to the sea" phrase and other pro-Palestine messages.

What they're saying: Vũ, a first-generation Vietnamese American, says they find their artwork's removal troubling given that Oolite has showcased works tackling political issues like gentrification and book bans in the past.

  • ​​"The piece was an expression of solidarity with oppressed people of the world and a call for peace and justice in the face of ongoing injustices," they write.
  • "I am disheartened to see Oolite Arts, an institution who claims to support artists, misinterpret and censor my work."

The other side: In a statement to Axios, Oolite's board of trustees said it "deeply regrets" that the removal of the piece "offended some in our community, and that its contents offended others in our community."

  • "We believe strongly in the right to artistic expression, but the particular phrase highlighted in this piece is perceived by many as a literal call for violence against them."

What's next: The board says an independent consultant will review the removal and look at Oolite's policies to provide recommendations going forward "so that artists we work with have clear guidelines and expectations."

  • "As an organization that exists for artists, we do wish we had taken more time to have deeper conversations with the artist, our staff and other stakeholders about the work and our decision."

Supporters of the artist are calling for the resignation of board chair Marie Elena Angulo "for her abuse of power and for greenlighting the censorship of Vũ's work without due process."

  • They also called for Oolite to reconsider its decision to remove the piece and to participate in a town hall with the arts community, among other demands.
avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Miami.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Miami stories

No stories could be found

Miamipostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Miami.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more