School of Visual Arts Students Hold Moment of Silence for Gaza Children

A group of School of Visual Arts (SVA) students and alumni staged a moving pro-Palestine demonstration last night, May 16, during an exhibition opening at the institution’s Flatiron Gallery in Manhattan. For over 45 minutes, the activists read the names and ages of children killed in Gaza since Hamas’s October 7 attack, demanding the school’s divestment from Israeli military interests.

The sit-in began at 6:55pm, a few minutes before the public reception for How Do You Like Your Love was scheduled to end. The show comprises faculty and alumni work exploring themes of queerness, gender, and race, some created by artists who participated in last night’s sit-in.

Around 10 activists dispersed throughout the gallery’s lobby and its larger viewing space, where a student show is on display, and entered the tiny street-facing room housing the How Do You Like Your Love exhibition while throwing red confetti into the air. Three alumni took seats on the floor. Behind them, activists held three squares from the pro-Palestine quilt that was unfurled in March on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After a moment of silence, protesters distributed red tissue paper in the shape of poppies, a symbol of Palestine, each with the handwritten name and age of a person killed in Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza. Most ages read “3” or “16.” One read “0.”

Organizers made clear that the action was not in protest of the show or its curators, but rather the school’s administration. While some universities across the country have reached agreements with student activists on the question of divestment, SVA has not. The school has not responded to Hyperallergic’s immediate request for comment.

“The school had just made a statement after the atrocities of the seventh of October, but nothing since, which seems wrong and one-sided,” an alumnus with work in the show, who asked to remain anonymous, told Hyperallergic. “They’re pretending to be neutral, but you can’t do that and then claim to be neutral.” 

The alumnus said they contacted the SVA branch of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the group behind many of the student protests and encampments across the country. Earlier this month, the organization’s SVA chapter staged a sit-in and action at the school’s administrative offices.

Rebecca Goyette, who graduated in 2009 from SVA’s MFA program, was invited to participate in last night’s protest. Goyette told Hyperallergic she had helped organize the quilt project, which she said continues to grow.

“I really wanted to support the SVA movement — I went here — but I mainly wanted to support some of the smaller movements, especially at the art schools, because I feel like as artists, we’re not as used to organizing and working in community because we’re really taught to work individually,” she said.

An alumnus who graduated in 2015, who asked to remain anonymous, said she participated in part because she was worried about “things winding down in the summer.”

In a statement to Hyperallergic, SJP said they are “so grateful and absolutely astonished” by the alumni and faculty support at SVA. “In this intergenerational fight, we are learning so much from each other: we are learning courage and love, and we are learning the history of how the school (SVA) has failed its students.”

While student encampments are the country have been forcibly taken down and students head into summer vacation, an SJP representative told Hyperallergic that it plans to continue the movement through the break by holding online teach-ins, email campaigns, and “general community-building events to sustain and prepare for the new school year.”

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