MoMA Accused of Denying Entry to Visitors With a Keffiyeh

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Two people who visited the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York last weekend said they were barred from entering with a keffiyeh, a traditional Palestinian headscarf. 

On Saturday, March 16, Ju-Hyun Park, a Brooklyn-based writer and media worker, posted on social media that a member of MoMA’s security flagged the white-and-black keffiyeh featuring a Palestinian flag border during a bag search.

“I was just denied entry to your museum because I had a keffiyeh,” Park wrote on X, tagging MoMA, after staff allegedly turned away Park and their friend. “The manager and security staff refused to explain their reasoning. Why do you have such a brazenly racist anti-Palestinian policy?” 

MoMA has neither confirmed nor denied the incident, failing to respond to Hyperallergic’s multiple requests for comment. A staffer in the museum’s General Information department reached by phone declined to provide information about MoMA’s dress policy for visitors or confirm whether the museum prohibits keffiyehs. On the museum’s website, a list of prohibited items does not include the headscarves but notes that the institution may ban “any other items that could put the art or visitors at risk, to be determined at the sole discretion of MoMA Security Team.”

Park, who uses they/them pronouns, told Hyperallergic that they were visiting the museum with their friend Phuong to see the last day of Vietnamese-American artist An-My Lê’s exhibition Between Two Rivers

“I didn’t really think about the keffiyeh as anything other than being a scarf that day, although I do try to wear it when I’m out and about,” Park recalled, explaining that they had initially brought it to keep warm.

When security noticed the keffiyeh in Park’s bag, Park and Phuong alleged that the staffer called over a supervisor, who then told them — without giving a reason — that they were not allowed to bring the scarf inside the museum. Park said that they tried to find a compromise, asking if they could leave the scarf in the coat check, but security refused to admit the pair.

“They essentially asked us to discard it in order to be allowed to come in,” Phuong, who asked to be identified by their first name for this report, told Hyperallergic. After the two stepped outside, opting to hide the scarf under Phuong’s shirt, they proceeded to go through security again and were allowed entry, they said.

In February, MoMA was the site of a pro-Palestine rally that drew over 800 demonstrators — many of whom were donning keffiyehs — and forced the institution to temporarily close to visitors. At the action, protestors criticized museum trustees Leon Black, Larry Fink, Paula Crown, Marie-Josée Kravis, and Ronald S. Lauder for their financial and corporate investments in Israeli militarism.

Days later, members of MoMA’s staff penned an open letter to the museum urging the institution to issue a statement supporting an “unconditional ceasefire” in Palestine. Since October 7, the Israeli military has killed more than 31,726 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, in addition to 382 Palestinians in the West Bank and another 73,792 injured.

Since Hamas’s attacks on October 7, there has been an uptick in institutional censorship around the keffiyeh — a historic symbol of solidarity with Palestine, popularized in the late 20th century when the Palestinian flag was banned in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. In France and Germany, demonstrators wearing the checkered scarf have reported being fined or detained by police. In Vermont, Palestinian college students donning the headscarf made national headlines last fall after a 48-year-old man opened fire on them.

“Either officially or unofficially, the MoMA seems to have either banned the keffiyeh or Palestinian flags, which are symbols of a people who are actively facing genocide in this moment,” Park told Hyperallergic, adding that their interaction with security was “basically a statement from the museum that they don’t think Palestinians should exist, at least within the museum.”

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