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Invisible Labor Inquiry (San Francisco, USA)

July 18, 2014

Dear YBCA [Yerba Buena Center for the Arts],


Please accept my deep congratulations for your inclusion of Bay Area Art Workers Alliance in Bay Area Now. I’m writing in support of B.A.A.W.A., whose project “Invisible Labor” has the potential to act as the most provocative contemporary use of a Bay Area museum to celebrate and reveal the work that maintains it. As you know, B.A.A.W.A. draws support from a group of 200 people, and fifty of those art workers are currently and anonymously installing works in the museum. The significance of the title is not to be underestimated– not only are preparators necessarily unseen by common museum viewers and administration, they are invisible to one and (an)other. This is due to the type of labor required of a prepator’s work—many B.A.A.W.A. workers have little institutional security, are on-call, temporary, independent contractors, freelancers and project-based workers, working odd hours, at night, and competing for jobs. To clarify, all of these people are using their unpaid hours to install work as a way to demonstrate solidarity with their trade and their community for the first time.

In the process of administering this project, it is possible that the meaning of “Invisible Labor” slipped from YBCA’s attention—and with this letter I hoped to highlight what I find to be at the core of the work. This exhibit is a decoy—it looks like a ‘art installation’, but the real work being accomplished by the installation is the revealing of an unseen network of people (to each other and to the public) who make the museum function. The work in the show is most powerful when it is seen as a byproduct of the alliance of people who care for the museums and institutions of the Bay Area. The real exhibit is of a community of alienated precarious workers who see themselves and each other as a part of a mutual aid network that offers infinite care and visibility. This community is the beautiful product of the “Invisible Labor”, and it must be revealed as such, for free, at the opening of Bay Area Now this Friday.

It has been stated by YBCA in its communication with B.A.A.W.A. that only 25 out of 200 art workers who are a part of this work will be invited to attend the opening of Bay Area Now for free this Friday. This decision has been described to us a fiscal necessity for YBCA, and as such, 175 of our members will be asked to pay $15 to attend the opening night of their own project. This is a contradictory decision that will cost the museum significant support by B.A.A.W.A. members, many of whom will not be able or willing to pay to see their labor. At the rate of $15 per B.A.A.W.A. member, YBCA stands to earn $2625 from the sale of tickets to the 175 members not comped for Friday’s event. That is $125 more than YBCA spent on the budget for this exhibit. While you give yourself the potential to break even on costs, you also risk the total failure of your commission to B.A.A.W.A. : the project of revealing the people behind the “Invisible Labor” will remain invisible—to you, to the visitors, and most importantly to each other. In this way, you stand to completely miss the point of the work that you commissioned, and to trap the exhibition in a cycle of fiscally responsible irony.

I am also aware of your labor, and your beautiful attempt to make impossible moments happen within the confines of a huge institution.  With this awareness, I would like to offer you a B.A.A.W.A. membership card, which will allow you free admittance to any and all museums and institutions that are a part of the infinite network of care and visibility.


Thanks for your time and attention,

Cassie Thornton

The Feminist Economics Department (the FED)



Dear Cassie,


Thank you so much for contacting us with your well articulated and thought provoking email. We certainly agree that the economic structure of labor and the work force in the United States is changing with more people working as independent contractors on a project basis. We also agree that the B.A.A.W.A. “Invisible Labor” exhibition, one of 15 exhibitions presented in Bay Area Now 7, does a wonderful job at highlighting important aspects of these issues.

We are thrilled to be presenting the work of artists selected by curators from 15 Bay Area visual arts partners. We are committed to valuing each partnership equally.

I will take the opportunity here to respond to the segment of your email specifically referencing YBCA’s policy on complimentary tickets for our opening night party. The arrangement for all of our partners is articulated in the signed contract:

“Complimentary tickets:

ii. YBCA will provide ORGANIZATION 25 complimentary tickets for the opening night party on July 18, 2014. These tickets are to be used in any way that ORGANIZATION sees fit, including invitations for the artists and their guests.”

In addition an email was sent to the partner organizations articulating how the groups can obtain their complimentary tickets.

YBCA deeply believes that partnerships are central to its success. We worked across department to develop an equitable approach for all of our partners for the opening night reception that we believe is both generous and fair to every participating organization regardless of their range in size and membership. Our strategy represents our enormous respect for the artists, curators, and the entire Bay Area arts community. In addition to providing 25 complimentary tickets for the opening night party, each organization is also provided 50 complimentary tickets for their own public program, and an 25 additional complimentary tickets to be used at their discretion throughout the exhibition. That is a total of 1500 complimentary tickets!

We also always welcome dialogue and exchange about YBCA, the economy, labor and the arts, and any other important topic of interest to the Bay Area community.  We welcome your thoughts about how we can deepen our partnership in order to have these conversations.

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with us and for the important work you and B.A.A.W.A. are doing. We look forward to seeing you at the opening night reception and hope you will join us for some of our many public programs. YBCA is free to the public every firstTuesday of the month and from 4-8 pm on every third Thursday of the month.



Betti-Sue Hertz

Director of Visual Arts



Dear Betti-Sue,

Thank you for the thoughtful and detailed reply. It means a great deal to me that you care enough to write.

My specific concern and request is that YBCA offer complimentary passes to the preparators in the exhibition, if not all preparators. Perhaps a portion of the complimentary passes not used by other organizations could be reallocated to them and left at the door? My request is based on the principle of letting something that is RIGHT happen over pre-determined RULES: because we are working within an art context. My participation in any art comes out of a belief that art can transcend common limitations in order to do something that is really really good. This is why I am a paying member of YBCA, whose core values include risk, innovation, inclusion, and adaptation in pursuit of radical community.

I understand that you mean to create a sense of equity between the groups in the show. However, as an art institution, it seems like there is an opportunity for meaning-making to prevail over blanket rule-making. After years of being on the artist’s side of the institution, I believe in the necessary softness of contracts. I also think that the other groups, if given the chance, would choose to support BAAWA’s initiative by getting preparators in for free (especially since it was the preparators at YBCA who allowed this show to take place). 

I was (and am now more so, thanks to your email) aware of the contract that offers 25 tickets to the opening exhibition. However, it is clear to me that the nature of the exhibit requires completely free entry at least for the exhibiting preparators, as a way to celebrate the network of solidarity that is being launched with Bay Area Now.

Please do consider the opportunity to let the work you have commissioned do the work it has the potential to do. I believe in the power of art to overcome a sense of what is impossible, and right now we are so close to letting something that is RIGHT happen in spite of the RULES. We live in a world of regulation, this is the perfect moment to let art in to make what is truly ‘equitable’ (aka just), possible. I will be in attendance on Friday if I don’t give my free tickets (from my membership at YBCA) to the preparators who worked on the show.

Thank you again for your considered response, I know this is an extremely busy time for you.

All the best!


Bay Area Art Workers Alliance is a support network of laborers involved in the installation and fabrication of exhibitions within art institutions. BAAWA fosters a mutually supportive relationship between these art workers and their contractors, by facilitating open dialogue, as well as providing an educational resource regarding best practices for the installation, collection, transportation, storage and archiving of artworks.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts was founded in 1993 out of an expressed need for an accessible, high-profile San Francisco venue devoted to contemporary visual art, performance, and film/video representing diverse cultural and artistic perspectives. Distinguished by its support for contemporary artists from around the world, YBCA is also recognized for the important role the organization plays in the San Francisco Bay Area arts ecology and in the community at large.

ArtLeaks Gazette No. 2 (An)Other Art World(s)? Imagination Beyond Fiction – Launch and public discussions

June 23, 2014

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ArtLeaks Gazette No. 2  – Public Launch and Discussions

While in our previous issue we sought to bring awareness of the challenges and obstacles of the contemporary art system as a initial, necessary first step in enacting meaningful transformations, with this gazette we aim to move beyond exposure and breaking the silence, towards ways of engagement – or what does it mean to be agents of change in the art world today? What are the conditions and possibilities of alternative art worlds? How can we engage and use our imagination, avoiding, at the same time, the traps of utopian thinking?

We will be presenting our new issue  “(An)Other Art World(s)? Imagination Beyond Fiction” and would like to invite you to attend the events below. Some of the gazette’s editors and authors, together with other artists, activists and theorists will facilitate the discussions. Free entrance.


Saturday, June 28th, 16:00

Oldschool Bar

Naberezhnaya Admiralteiskogo Kanala, No. 27

St. Petersburg, Russia

Directions here.

Corina L. Apostol and Andrey Shental will lead the discussions, part of the Public Program of the School of Engaged Art “Chto Delat.” 

For more details join the event on fb: 

The School of Engaged Art for Russian artists was initiated in 2013 by the collective Chto Delat, with the support of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. It freely offers courses on art theory, philosophy, aesthetics and visual culture, choreography and critical writing in the current Russian context, where basic democratic freedoms are under threat, there is no support for an independent, critical culture, and hardly any academic programs in contemporary art. The school is based on the idea of a collective practice, encouraging its participants to take a position in a world where fundamental struggles are drawn by developing a particular artistic movement. 


Monday, June 30th – Sunday, July 6th

Museum of Contemporary Art of Voivodina(MSUV)

Dunavska 37

Novi Sad, Serbia

Vladan Jeremić will present the gazette, part of the FACK MSUV – Performing the Museum as Common

For more details join the group on fb:

FACK MSUV is an operation of temporary “liberation” of the museum (it can be conceived too as a sui generis occupation or re- appropriation) with  the aim of making it open and freely accessible for use for both local and international (art) community without classical institutional filtering and control “from the top down”. The event is launched by the mobile art platform F.A.C.K. from Cesena (Italy) in collaboration with “liberated spaces” MACAO (Milan), Teatro Valle (Rome), SALE.Docks (Venice) and Embros Theatre (Athens) and is realized with the contribution and participation of numerous artists, curators, researchers, activist and citizens from the ex-Yugoslav region and the rest of Europe.


Friday, July 25 and Saturday, July 26 


Enclave 5, 50 Resolution Way

London, U.K.

The gazette will be presented in a site-specific display at Divus London by Corina Apostol, opening July 25th. On July 26th there will be a participatory workshop. More information here:

DIVUS London is a new gallery and artspace based in South London hosting exhibitions and events from national and international artists. DIVUS London is also the London office of international magazine Umelec, and the space boasts an archive of art magazines, video and audio art published by DIVUS.

RSVP on fb here:



The ArtLeaks Gazette No. 2 includes texts by: Corina L. Apostol, Larissa Babij, Daniel Blochwitz, Joanna Figiel, Noah Fischer with Artur Żmijewski, Vladan Jeremić and Rena Rädle, Sean Lowry and Nancy de Freitas, Andrea Pagnes, Heath Schultz, Andrey Shental

Visual works reproduced in the gazette are by: Assembly for Culture Ukraine, Roisin Beirne withClare Breen, Andreas Kindler Von Knobloch, David Lunney, John Ryan and Tom Watt, Daniel Blochwitz, Department of Biological Flow, Noah Fischer with Pawel Althamer andArtur Žmijewski, G.U.L.F. (Global Ultra Luxury Faction), Ellie Harrison, Vladan Jeremićand Rena Rädle, Deana Jovanović, Mark Shorter, Occupy Museums (OM), OFSW (Citizen Forum for Contemporary Arts), Self Organized Seminar (SOS), Iulia Toma, Winter Holiday Camp

Graphic interventions for this issue: Federico Geller

ArtLeaks Gazette editors: Corina L. Apostol, Vladan Jeremić and Raluca Voinea

Editing assistance: Jasmina Tumbas


The ArtLeaks Gazette is an activist publication produced by core members of ArtLeaks, an organization founded in 2011 as an international platform for cultural workers where instances of abuse, corruption and exploitation are exposed and submitted to public inquiry.  Through our gazette, we stress the urgent need to seriously transform these workers’ relationships with the institutions, networks and economies involved in the production,reproduction and consumption of art and culture. We pursue these goals through developing a new approach to the tradition of institutional critique and through fostering new forms of artistic production that might challenge the dominant discourses of criticality and social engagement that tame and contain creative forces. 

ArtLeaks Gazette No.2: (An)Other Art World(s)? Imagination Beyond Fiction Now Online!

June 15, 2014


We are very happy to announce the release of our latest issue of the ArtLeaks Gazette entitled (An)Other Art World(s)? Imagination Beyond Fiction

While in our previous issue we sought to bring awareness of the challenges and obstacles of the contemporary art system as a initial, necessary first step in enacting meaningful transformations, with this gazette we aim to move beyond exposure and breaking the silence, towards ways of engagement – or what does it mean to be agents of change in the art world today? What are the conditions and possibilities of alternative art worlds? How can we engage and use our imagination, avoiding, at the same time, the traps of utopian thinking?

Some of the contributions that we gathered for this issue investigate models of communing within art and education, focusing on examples of free schools and self-organized groups based on skills sharing. Others offer analyses of the economic relations within the art academies that lead to precarity, and exemplify ways to strike against the system of debt and expendable labor.  There are also those who focus on approaches for supporting critical art practices that remain disconnected from the art market, as well as on ways of establishing new paradigms that do not displace artists, workers, local residents, insisting on the possibility of a sustainable community of working people. 

As a learning tool, this gazette is meant to contribute to the critical debates around censorship, exploitation and abuse highlighted on our online archive since 2011. We hope many of you will use it in your own self-organized schools, seminars, workshops, protest meetings, and join our community to push these issues even further.  We encourage you to share it widely with your peers that may be interested in the aforementioned topics.

The gazette can be downloaded freely here: ArtLeaks_Gazette_2

The gazette is also available via print on demand. You can make an order by sending us an email at:

We would like to invite you to a gazette launch and open discussion to be held in St. Petersburg (Russia) on Saturday, June 28th. The exact time and location will be announced shortly before the date on our facebook page. Corina L. Apostol and Andrey Shental will facilitate.  

Vladan Jeremić will also hold an open discussion about the gazette, part of  FACK MSUV / performing the museum as a common at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Vojvodina (MSUV) in Novi Sad (Serbia), from June 30 to July 06, 2014 . More information here. 

More discussions and workshops will be announced in the near future. If you would like to host one please contact us. 

The gazette includes texts by: Corina L. Apostol, Larissa Babij, Daniel Blochwitz, Joanna Figiel, Noah Fischer with Artur Żmijewski, Vladan Jeremić and Rena Rädle, Sean Lowry and Nancy de Freitas, Andrea Pagnes, Heath Schultz, Andrey Shental

Visual works reproduced in the gazette are by: Assembly for Culture Ukraine, Roisin Beirne with Clare Breen, Andreas Kindler Von Knobloch, David Lunney, John Ryan and Tom Watt, Daniel Blochwitz, Department of Biological Flow, Noah Fischer with Pawel Althamer and Artur Žmijewski, G.U.L.F. (Global Ultra Luxury Faction), Ellie Harrison, Vladan Jeremić and Rena Rädle, Deana Jovanović, Mark Shorter, Occupy Museums (OM), OFSW (Citizen Forum for Contemporary Arts), Self Organized Seminar (SOS), Iulia Toma, Winter Holiday Camp

Graphic interventions for this issue: Federico Geller

ArtLeaks Gazette editors: Corina L. Apostol, Vladan Jeremić and Raluca Voinea

Editing assistance: Jasmina Tumbas

Special thanks to: Vlad Morariu and Dmitry Vilensky

Nikita Kadan’s “Procedure room” excluded from the 3rd Annual Xinjiang Biennale because of political issues

June 10, 2014

Artist Nikita Kadan’s project “Procedure room”(2009-2010) was recently excluded from the 3rd Annual Xinjiang Biennale, “New Art on the Silk Road,” where he had initially been invited to participate. Kadan received an email from  the organizers that his project had been rejected in the end, because a representative from the XinJiang government had found some “political issues” in the works. According to the same source, 80 artists were rejected out of the 120 originally invited international artists.

“Procedure room” is a project about the widespread practices of police torture in contemporary Urkaine. It consists of a set of souvenir plates printed with drawings of instances of police torture and the text of an email dialogue between Yekaterina Mishchenko and Kadan. The project speaks to the absence of visual documentation around torture practices, and their typical ‘invisibility,’ also drawing attention to the collective responsibilities of all those who know and remain silent. More information here.

According to the organizers, the exhibition ‘New Art on the Silk Road’, “draws parallels between the region’s historical influence and contemporary resonance.” The Biennale is meant to represent “a celebration of the exchange of art and culture that the Silk Road embodied, and which is even further amplified in today’s globalized world.” The Biennale features works from contemporary artists in Central Asia, China, and the Mediterranean region.

The 3rd Annual Xinjiang Biennale is supported by the central government of China and co-organized by the Ministry of Culture and the Xinjiang province.

More information here.


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International Exhibition Censored by Turkish Embassy in Madrid

May 29, 2014

by Pelin Başaran and Banu Karaca


Last year, the exhibition Here Together Now was held at Matadero Madrid, Spain. Curated by Manuela Villa, was realised with the support of the Turkish Embassy in Madrid, Turkish Airlines and ARCOmadrid. But in the exhibition booklet, the explanatory notes to artist İz Öztat’s work “A Selection from the Utopie Folder (Zişan, 1917-1919)” was censored upon the request of the Turkish Embassy in Madrid, and the expressions “Armenian genocide” and the date “1915” were taken out.The case shows how the Turkish state delimits artistic expression in the projects it supports, and how it silences the institutions it cooperates with.

After Turkey was chosen as the country of focus for the 2013 edition of the ARCOmadrid International Contemporary Art Fair, the designated curator Vasıf Kortun and assistant curator Lara Fresko started to work with the galleries that would join the fair. They helped in fostering connections between the Madrid arts institutions and artists in Turkey; as well as with the embassy officers in charge of the financial support of events such as Here Together Now, which would run as a parallel event to the main fair. The embassy indicated that it would support this exhibition with the generous sum of €250,000. However, it did not provide any written documentation guaranteeing this support, and outlining the mutual duties and responsibilities of the parties involved. Likewise, during the realisation of the project, there was no written communication between the embassy and Matadero Madrid, and all negotiations took place verbally, over the phone. It was in this manner that, from the very beginning, the state kept the exact conditions of its support ambiguous and created a tense situation for the organisers. Ultimately, this working practice gave the Embassy the possibility of denying the promised support, in the event that their request was not carried out.

This is not the first case of the Turkish state censoring an arts event it sponsors abroad. We frequently hear about such cases off the record, and at times through the media. One of the best-known cases of state intervention took place in Switzerland, during the 2007 Culturespaces Festival. Director Hüseyin Karabey’s film Gitmek – My Marlon and Brando, which had received support from the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, was taken out of the festival program at the very last minute, at the request of an officer from the General Directorate of Promotion Fund, on the pretext that “a Turkish girl cannot fall in love with a Kurdish boy” as was the case in the film. The officer threatened the festival organisers with withdrawal of sponsorship totaling €400,000 — much like the case of the Madrid exhibition. The festival director decided that they could not go ahead with the event without this support, ceded to the censorship request, and accepted to take the film out of the program. However, independent movie theaters in Switzerland criticised this decision and ended up screening the film independently of the festival.


Both examples show that the state controls the content of the projects it sponsors abroad, interferes with the organisations on arbitrary grounds, and violates artists’ rights by threatening the very institutions it collaborates with.

The administrative channel for the state’s support to events outside of Turkey is the Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s Promotion Fund Committee, established under law 3230 (10 June, 1985) with the aim of supporting activities that “promote Turkey’s history, language, culture and arts, touristic values and natural riches”. The Committee reports directly to the Prime Minister’s office, and is presided over either by the Prime Minister himself, the Vice Prime Minister or a minister designated by the PM. It has five more members: Deputy Undersecretaries from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, as well as the general managers of the Directorate General of Press and Information, and the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT). The objective of the fund is “to provide financial support to agencies set up to promote various aspects of Turkey domestically and overseas, to disseminate Turkish cultural heritage, to influence the international public opinion in the direction of our national interests, to support efforts of public diplomacy, and to render the state archive service more effective”.

The Committee convenes at least four times a year upon the invitation of its president to evaluate project applications. The only criterion in accepting a project is whether it complies with the objectives mentioned above. After the Committee carries out its evaluation, the projects are put into practice upon the approval of the PM. Representative offices of the Promotion Fund Committee monitor whether the projects are implemented in compliance with the principles of the fund. In the case of the Madrid exhibition, the Turkish Embassy assumed the role of representative office. In this respect, as per the relevant regulation, the embassy was in charge of controlling the project, signing protocols with project managers to outline mutual duties and responsibilities, making the necessary payments, and delivering the project report to the Committee. As such, the embassy’s avoidance of all written documentation is in breach of the principles and modus operandi established by its own regulations.

Overall, it can be said that the Promotion Fund Committee does not meet the criteria of transparency and accountability generally expected from a public agency. The dates when the committee convenes to evaluate the projects are not announced, and the committee members, annual budget, sponsorship priorities and selection criteria are not made public. The sums paid to projects sponsored and the content of the projects are not disclosed officially. In other words, there is no transparency about the distribution of the funds, or about the auditing procedures. Such structural problems make it even harder to reveal and question the state’s violation of the right to artistic expression.

Another important aspect of this case is that the state constantly tries to reproduce its dominant discourse based on the denial of past and ongoing human rights violations such as forced displacement, genocide, political murders, burning of villages, enforced disappearances, rape, and torture through security forces; and does its utmost to silence any expression which contests this discourse. The centenary of the Armenian genocide, 2015, is drawing near. As such, it becomes even more important to demand that the Turkish state be held accountable for this human rights violation.


Map of Cennet/Cinnet (Paradise/Possessed Island). Zişan, 1915-1917. Ink on paper, 20×27 cm

Siyah Bant is a research platform that documents and reports on cases of censorship in arts across Turkey, and shares these with the local and international public. In the context of this work, we wanted to investigate the censorship that occurred at Here Together Now. In accordance with the Right to Information Act, we asked the Turkish Embassy in Madrid and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, to explain the legal basis of the censorship they imposed on the booklet. In response, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism indicated that Matadero Madrid and curator Manuela Villa were the only authorities in charge of selecting the artists who would participate in the workshops of ARCOmadrid, designating the content of the works to be produced during the workshops, and preparing all printed matter in connection to the event. We were unable to obtain an official statement from curator Manuela Villa, despite several inquiries. Finally, we conducted an interview the artist İz Öztat to understand how the censorship took place, and how she experienced the process.

How did you come to be involved in the exhibition?

I was invited by Manuela Villa, curator of Matadero Madrid, after meeting her in Istanbul. Matadero planned for a residency program and an exhibition project titled Here Together Now to take place concurrently with the 2013 edition of the ARCOmadrid Art Fair that had a section consisting of invited galleries from Turkey. By the time I signed the contract with Matadero Madrid, I knew that the project was partially supported by the Turkish Embassy in Madrid and Turkish Airlines.

Here Together Now was a process that allocated the resources with an emphasis on living and working together. Cristina Anglada (writer), Theo Firmo, Sibel Horada, HUSOS (a collective of architects), Pedagogias Invisibles (art mediation collective), Diego del Pozo Barrius, Dilek Winchester and I had six weeks together, during which we figured out common concerns, negotiated our relationship to the institution’s public, designed the working and exhibition space, collaborated and produced our works.

Can you tell us about the nature of contract with the institution and if there were any limitations indicated as to the nature of your work?

We signed a very detailed contract with Matadero Madrid that laid out the responsibilities of the institution and the artist in relation to the production and authorship of new work but there were no limitations outlined in the contract. I took it for granted that the artist has freedom of expression and institutions do not interfere in the produced content.

The institution was extremely supportive of the project. They were engaged in our discussions and ready to help once we started producing the work.

Could you talk a bit about the work that you prepared for Matadero Madrid?

The work shown in the Here Together Now exhibition was part of an ongoing process, in which I imagine ways to conjure a suppressed past. Since 2010, I have been engaged in an untimely collaboration with Zişan (1894-1970), who is a recently discovered historical figure, a channeled spirit and an alter ego. By inventing an anarchic lineage with a marginalized Ottoman woman, I try to recognize a haunting past and rework it to be able to imagine otherwise. For the exhibition at Matadero Madrid, I produced and exhibited “A Selection from Zişan’s Utopie Folder (1917-1919)” accompanied by works from the “Posthumous Production Series”, in which I depart from Zişan’s work to open a path towards the future in our collaboration. The exhibited work was complemented by a publication with three interviews, which situates the work and builds a discourse around it.

Which aspect of the work was censored? How did the process of censorship occur, and what kind of dilemmas did you face in this process?

Manuela Villa, the curator, met with me in the exhibition space one evening a few days prior to the opening. Officials from the Turkish Embassy had threatened to withdraw their financial support, if the demanded changes were not made. I had to make a decision on the spot and accepted the censorship in the booklet, but not in the publication complementing the work. The exhibition booklet was reprinted and the sentence was changed to “Zişan, born in Istanbul in 1894, is a marginal woman of Armenian descent, who embarks on a European quest.”

As I said before, there was an emphasis on the community we built together during the residency at Matadero and I didn’t want to make a decision alone that would put the whole project at risk. Because of the time constraints, we were only able to meet with the other artists after the opening to discuss the precarious condition that we were all in. The institution didn’t have any signed documents from the Embassy committing to the sponsorship. Everything was communicated verbally and there was no written documentation. I was not able to reach out for a support network to resist the situation, not least due to the immediacy the decision required.

The exhibition booklet that was presented to the embassy was altered but the publication accompanying your work remained unchanged. How did the curator and other artists react to your refusal to change the publication?

I could not stand my ground with regard the exhibition booklet because it concerned everybody in the project. Yet, I was able to take full responsibility of my own work. We were informed that officials from the embassy will visit the show prior to the opening and I was ready to withdraw the work, if there was any interference. Everybody was supportive of my decision.

What happened on the day of the opening? Did you feel the need to prepare yourself?  

In the end, none of the officials from the embassy came to the opening or the exhibition. There was no confrontation regarding the work. There might be a few reasons for this that I can think of. Maybe, they felt entitled to interfere with the content of the exhibition booklet because it had the logo of the embassy and could dismiss my publication since it only had the logo of Matadero Madrid. It was not of benefit for the embassy to confront me in a situation that would have made the case public.

As Siyah Bant we inquired both with the curator and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in order to understand how this censoring motion played out. Given that the ministry rejects any responsibility and instead assigns all responsibility to the curator, and that the curator was acting under the duress of loosing all funding last minute, where does this leave you as the artist? How do you make sense of what happened to your work? 

Since I accepted the censorship, my only option was making the situation public after the fact. I have been working in cooperation with Siyah Bant since I got back from Madrid. It took a few months to receive an official response from the embassy, which denied all responsibility. We wanted to make the case public after receiving a statement from the curator or the institution. I was unable to receive such a statement, and Siyah Bant is working on that now.

I see it as an experience, in which I was able to test and see the boundaries of government support that is allocated to arts and culture for promoting the country. If you decide to accept this support and challenge official policies, a system of censorship starts to operate.

Next year marks the centenary of the Armenian genocide which will inevitably bring about numerous artistic and cultural reflections on the subject. Given the current climate in Turkey, how confident are you that artistic freedom of expression will be respected?

We are going through a period, in which it is impossible to make predictions about what can happen even the next day. I can only hope that genocide denial at state level comes to an end. I am sure that artists will articulate their own ways of recognising the Armenian Genocide and confronting its denial. You are probably more prepared than I am to predict and know what kinds of mechanisms are at work to limit the production and dissemination of such work.

What would be your recommendations to other artists taking part in cultural events that are supported by the Turkish government?

Based on my experience, I think that artists and art institutions need to act in solidarity in these situations. If there is funding from the Turkish state, the institutions and artists involved need to be aware that the state monitors the content. The various institutions that distribute state funding do not provide written documents about their commitments and communicate their demands mostly in person or by phone. Demanding written documentation at every step is necessary. Artists who are considering to take parts in projects that receive state funding, can demand from the art institutions to be more transparent about the budget and its workings so that they can be prepared to make alternative plans if the state funding does not come through as promised.

If I encountered the same case of censorship now, I would not feel obliged to make a decision immediately and in isolation. I would consult the rest of the group and demand the involvement of the institution.

This article was posted on May 28 2014 at

Voina refuses to participate in “anti-Russian” festival in the Netherlands

May 3, 2014

The Voina group protested against its inclusion on the list of participants at the festival OpenBorder which ran from April 22nd to May 1st in Amsterdam. The group justified their decision claiming that the festival was anti-Russian. On the site of the festival, the organizers state that “Russia has carried about an armed intervention in Crimea, Ukraine. And the independent medias in Russia are now closed or changed the directions. (Dozhd,, etc.). The inner Russian information is more and more directed to the political propaganda, censorship and total informational control, like in the times of Iron Curtain.” The festival took place in in St. Josephkerk, Amsterdam. Its aim was to “bring the visual and cultural dialogue between Russian and the west trough an exhibition of photo projects and a series of events.”

Describing the above statement as “anti-Russian,” on April 13th the Voina group refused to participate in OpenBorder. One of the core members of Voina, Oleg Vorotnikov appealed to the festival organizers in an open letter, in which he outlined the reasons behind the refusal: “There are ideological reasons behind our categorical refusal…The Voina group has a fundamentally different opinion on Crimea, an opposite position to that of the organizers. We are glad that Crimea was annexed by Russia, and we are happy for the Crimeans. I am proud of my country for the first time in a long time. And that’s not all. For years I have criticized the unprofessional liberal media – in particular, “” and “Dozhd”. I have often cited them as examples of prostitution, to the point of a humanitarian catastrophe in the Russian press. And finally, I welcomed their belated shrinking. 

In general Voina’s position is the very opposite off all that is expressed by the organizers of the Dutch exhibition,” concluded Vorotnikov. 

On April 23rd, the Voina group posted on its official website that, “despite the curators’ promises, Voina’s name has still not been erased from the schedule.” “Even after Voina’s loud statement and a long correspondence, the organizers are still trying to ignore the obvious: the Voina group is not participating in any foreign anti-Russian demonstrations!” declared the group. 


The Russian artists list on the OpenBorder Festival website


The posted schedule of the OpenBorder festival on April 24th

Irina Popova, one of the curators of the festival replied to Voina that “the workshop will mention the Voina group, and it will not be led by them. It is a big difference. We have enough information from public sources, which no one can prohibit us from using, since it is for educational and research purposes.” Popova qualified Voina’s statements  as “baseless attacks.”

In a conversation with, the organizers of OpenBorder further responded to Voina’s accusations: “This a gross misconception. We love Russia, and we are very worried about our country, otherwise it would not be the central theme of our festival.” According to the organizers, despite the fact that the festival’s timeframe coincides with the annexation of Crimea and the crackdown on the free media, OpenBorder does not have political overtones, and it would be wrong to interpret it that way. They noted that the festival was carried out without any support from Russian or Western organizations, and it is supported only by the Dostoyevsky Photographic Society. The main theme of the festival was “Photography and propaganda,” however the organizers claim they did not advocate for one side or the other, rather their aim was to analyze the phenomenon of propaganda: “We as organizers do not make any comments on Crimea, or other issues , but only give various artists and groups a platform for expression and open dialogue, if it is still possible. We function only on a cultural plane, the only thing which we stand for is freedom of creativity, expression and exchange of information. Culture – is something that will outlast policies and regimes, that’s what we call value and respect.” stated OpenBorder organizers. They also shared that at the end of the festival they were planning to establish photographic and artistic connections between Russia and the rest of the world, believing in the power of dialogue. 

Concerning the conflict with Voina, the organizers remarked: “We sincerely regret that Voina refused to take part in the festival; they have ignored this opportunity for dialogue, and expressed their point of view in the form of provocative and erroneous statements that the media automatically reproduced.” They continued that they are entitled to analyze Voina’s public activities for research and educational purposes, using publicly available sources and documentary stories previously published. “We are sincerely sorry that Voina lost much of the public’s interest in their activities and use every opportunity to stir up such scandals.”

Text based on an articlez published on (in Russian) and on texts publicly available on the Voina site.

MAYDAY: Art Workers’ Pride Visual Archive

April 28, 2014


This Thursday is May Day, international workers’ day. 

Across the globe workers will celebrate May Day in various ways, organizing street demonstrations and protest marches in their communities, demanding justice and freedom for all oppressed people. 

With this occasion, ArtLeaks will inaugurate a visual archive dedicated to art workers’ pride, which will continue to gather material throughout the year. 

We invite you to submit visual documentation of protests/performances/comics/banners/short texts related to art and cultural struggles. Please send the material to or @Art_Leaks, including the credit information and a title or very short description. Both signed and anonymous entries welcome. 

Our aim is to create a visual archive of different actors and movements around the globe focused on art labour. We think this is will grow into a great resource and encourage all persons working in art and culture to submit their materials to this public archive.

Happy May Day International Workers’ Day! 


Thanks to all the contributors so far and please continue sending us materials! The archive holds historical cases of art workers’ organizations and struggles from the late 19th century to the present! This is a selective history, not a comprehensive one – we will update the archive regularly !

 To view the archive full screen press on the arrows button on the lower right corner.



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