MoMA Apologizes for Barring Visitors From Entering With Keffiyeh

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York has apologized for preventing two visitors from entering the institution with a Palestinian keffiyeh earlier this month. In a statement to Hyperallergic, a museum spokesperson said that security staffers had mistakenly identified Brooklyn resident Ju-Hyun Park’s white-and-black headscarf as a banner, an item that is banned per MoMA’s prohibited items policy.

The incident took place on Saturday, March 16 during a routine bag check before Park and their friend Phuong could enter the museum. But the pair barely made it past MoMA’s entrance before security staffers told them they were not allowed to bring in the keffiyeh, which featured a border design consisting of Palestinian flags. Despite Park and Phuong’s attempts to find a compromise, MoMA security workers refused to allow them into the museum.

Ju-Hyun Park and their friend Phuong posed for a selfie outside of the museum after security staff refused to allow them to enter with their keffiyeh. (photo by and courtesy Ju-Hyun Park)

After they stepped away and hid the scarf under Phuong’s shirt, they attempted to enter once more and got through security successfully.

“Following a visitor’s social media post, we implemented our established process for onsite incident review. After gathering all available information, we determined that a keffiyeh carried inside a visitor’s bag was misidentified as a banner during bag screening,” a MoMA spokesperson told Hyperallergic.

“We made a mistake and we apologize. Keffiyehs are not, and have never been, on the Museum’s list of prohibited items,” the spokesperson continued, adding that the institution has contacted Park.

In a March 16 post on X, Park called the museum staff’s behavior “brazenly racist” and demanded an explanation. The post was met with skepticism and questions, as some users cited their own experiences entering the museum with the headscarf while others theorized that the incident was a result of a February pro-Palestine action in which more than 500 demonstrators — many of whom were wearing keffiyehs — shut down the institution’s second-floor atrium.

MoMA’s website lists “banners, signs and flags” as well as “any other items that could put the art or visitors at risk, to be determined at the sole discretion of MoMA Security Team” as prohibited.

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