The South Florida Coalition for Palestine, members of Jewish Voice for Peace, and an ad hoc group of Miami-based artists and cultural workers protested outside Art Basel Miami Beach on Friday.

Over 100 activists rallied outside the Miami Beach Convention Center, demanding a ceasefire in Gaza and calling on Miami-Dade County officials to stop supporting Israel. The protest came two months after tensions escalated in Gaza. Since October 7, when the militant group Hamas killed 1,200 Israelis and took more than 200 hostages, Israeli forces have killed over 17,000 Palestinians in the region, according to the Gazan health ministry. 

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The United States has continued to send weapons and support to Israel. International organizations, including the United Nations, have called for an immediate ceasefire in order to “prevent genocide against the Palestinian people.”

“I believe that artists hold a special power: the ability to reveal truths that can shift people’s awareness of the world around us,” said Agua Dulce, a queer artist, activist, and community organizer based in Miami. “I think there’s a societal avoidance of the internal reflections required to accept that genocide is currently occurring, because that would lead to the admittance of the unsightly truths of history. As an artist and creator, I believe that my role right now is to awaken that spark of humanity in those who’d rather not engage with it. I bare my soul to others, so that they may access its reflection within themselves.”

Miami Artists for Ceasefire (MA4C) has collectively garnered more than 200 signatures on an open letter in support of a ceasefire. Its organizers say they have already sent the letter to local officials via email.

“Through my creative practice, I express not just my love for humanity but a deep-seated commitment to our interconnectedness and the sacredness of nature,” said Cristina Isabel Rivera Sangama, an interdisciplinary artist and creative technologist. “My art is a testament to our enduring spirit, a call to remember that even in the face of adversity, we are woven together by threads of hope and unbreakable bonds of our shared heritage. In this crucial moment, as humans worldwide rise up against their oppressors, the urgency of our collective voice is paramount. My work seeks to amplify this global chorus of defiance and unity, reminding us that in our struggle for freedom and justice, we are never alone.”

Art Basel Miami Beach attracts thousands of artists, collectors, and community members to the city annually.

Organizers and activists say artists in particular cannot shy away from the politics happening beyond Art Basel’s walls. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine-Cava has pledged to invest a total of $76 million in Israel. 

Most US institutions, including ones in Miami that are hosting events in tandem with Art Basel, have not publicly commented on the conflict in Gaza.

“No one in power is doing anything to stop it, so it’s up to us to [apply] pressure, especially during Art Basel,” said Estefania Fernandez, who works in film. “We’re out here not making it easy for them to look away. If your advocacy in film isn’t showcasing voices that don’t get a change, then what are you doing? Art is supposed to make people think outside the box and see things from ‘the other person’s’ shoes.”

Protesters holding signs that read 'DIVEST FROM DEATH' with hands holding a lit dynamite.
Pro-Palestine protesters at Art Basel Miami Beach urged local and national officials to stop funding Israel.
Alexandra Martinez for ARTnews

Tensions flared early during the three-hour protest. One pro-Israel passerby began filming the activists and antagonizing them. Police officers moved her aside, but other passersby shouted pro-Israel messages at the activists, with one telling to “get a fucking life.”

The activists chanted “Free Palestine,” as well as “Netanyahu, what do you say? How many kids did you kill today?” One poster, held by artist and Miami Artists for a Ceasefire organizer misael soto, said, “Protect Palestine like you protect your collections.”

An hour into the action, dozens of police officers surrounded the protestors as they revealed a large green banner reading, “Let Palestine Live.” By 4:15 p.m., two pro-Palestine activists, one male 17-year-old and one female 20-year-old, were arrested after one was not allowed into the protesting area. One protestor, Mohammed Alajarmeh, who witnessed the incident broke out after escalations with counter protestors. According to Alajarmeh, he was pushed by an officer in the scuffle. Miami Beach Police Department say the activist was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting without violence. A second protestor was arrested on charges for resisting without violence.

According to the Miami Herald, a video of the arrests show the 17-year-old male demonstrator exchanging words with an officer who was then immediately grabbed. Officers pushed him and the 20-year-old female demonstrator against the building and arrested them.

“The exterior of the Convention Center is in the public domain and falls within the purview of the City of Miami Beach,” an Art Basel spokesperson said in a statement. “We are in close contact with the local authorities who are responsible for ensuring any protest taking place is in adherence with local laws and does not interrupt visitor access to the halls. Art Basel respects the rights of individuals to engage in peaceful protest and assembly.”

Update, 12/9/23, 10:45 p.m.: This article has been updated with a statement from Art Basel.