Questions Remain After ICA Miami Removes Portrait of Edward Said

Charles Gaines, “Faces 1: Identity Politics, #10, Edward Said” (2018) on view at the ICA Miami on March 7 (photo used with permission)

The Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (ICA) quietly removed a portrait of the Palestinian-American scholar and activist Edward Said and re-installed the piece shortly after a fundraising gala, Hyperallergic has confirmed — rousing suspicions that the museum is stifling references to Palestinian history and culture amid Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

Charles Gaines’s “Faces 1: Identity Politics, #10, Edward Said” (2018), one of 60 pieces included in his survey exhibition Charles Gaines: 1992–2023 at the ICA, belongs to a series of paintings on gridded clear acrylic panels rendered according to the artist’s distinctive numerical method. The 12 portraits in the series trace the history of revolutionary thought, advancing chronologically from Aristotle to author bell hooks and including Said as well as teacher and activist Maria W. Stewart, philosopher Karl Marx, and Afrocentrism theoretician Molefi Kete Asante, among others.

The timeline of the work’s removal and reinstatement is unclear, as the ICA has not publicly addressed it nor responded to Hyperallergic’s multiple email inquiries and phone calls. However, a museum visitor who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed that they did not see Gaines’s portrait of Said at the ICA when they visited the exhibition on Friday, February 16. The Miami New Times reported that the work was also absent from display during a visit in December 2023.

A different visitor, who was at the museum in early March, said that the work was back on view then, but that its wall label was still missing. The visitor added that when they inquired about the work, they were told that “Faces 1: Identity Politics, #10, Edward Said” was de-installed in advance of the ICA’s fundraising gala held on Saturday, March 2 and later reinstated. 

A photograph taken on Wednesday, March 6 shows a small area of peeling paint on the wall where a label appears to have been affixed and then removed — potentially for an artwork installed in place of Gaines’s during the event. The label for another work in the series, depicting bell hooks, remained in place.

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A photo shows a small area of peeling paint where a wall label appears to have been removed. The label for another work in the series, depicting author bell hooks, remains in place. (photo used with permission)

A website for the 365 Party, the ICA Miami’s 2024 gala, refers to “the inspiring generosity of Irma and Norman Braman” — the billionaire couple who bankrolled the private museum’s first permanent home in the city’s Design District in 2017. Braman, who has backed Republican Marco Rubio largely on the basis of the senator’s commitment to Israel, has reportedly helped fund Israeli settlements in the West Bank via his family foundation.

News of the work’s removal was first shared online in the form of an anonymous tip posted on social media by the advocacy group Art Against Displacement (AAD). The author of the text suggests that the portrait was taken down “solely based on [Said’s] Palestinian identity.”

“Why was Said removed while the other scholars remained in the show?” the tip reads. “As Palestinians in Gaza are being starved, maimed, and massacred, the ICA Miami has sided with Zionist violence.”

Said, who died in 2003, is known for his pioneering work in the field of postcolonial studies and as one of the most eminent advocates of Palestinian rights and self-determination in the United States. His foundational book Orientalism (1978) confronted the Eurocentric “narratives of oppression” that caricature and subordinate people and histories beyond the West.

When first reached by Hyperallergic, Gaines was unaware of the work’s temporary removal. The artist has not yet provided comment for this story. Hauser & Wirth, Gaines’s representing gallery, did not respond to several requests for comment.

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