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“Late yesterday, a Kennesaw State University official contacted Ruth Stanford to inform her of the university’s decision to offer to reinstate her installation A Walk in the Valley, with the provision that additional materials be on hand to provide more context for the work. Stanford’s installation, commissioned for the Zuckerman Museum’s inaugural exhibition, takes as its subject property once owned by pro-lynching author Corra Harris that was acquired by KSU in 2008.”
Artist Ruth Stanford’s artwork A Walk in the Valley has been removed from the grand opening exhibition at the new Zuckerman Museum of Art at Kennesaw State University in the northern suburbs of Atlanta, GA.
During a walk-through a day before opening of the exhibition “See Through Walls,” KSU President Daniel S. Papp objected to the artwork and demanded it to be removed, despite the fact that the museum’s curators had commissioned the artist to make the site-specific work.
The artwork shines a light on the legacy of Corra Harris, whose writings from 1899 promote lynching of African Americans. The writer’s estate donated her property to the university in 2009, which raised a stink among students and faculty.
An ad-hoc coalition of artists, curators, art writers, and gallerists gathered at the ribbon-cutting ceremony with signs, t-shirts, and flyers on Saturday, March 1st to protest the censorship by the over-reaching university administration, and to support the artist and museum staff.
We are calling for President Papp to reinstate the artwork to the museum, and to offer a public apology.
Dear President Daniel Papp,
As members of the metro Atlanta art community, we are dismayed and disappointed by the decision of Kennesaw State University President Daniel Papp to remove a commissioned artwork by Ruth Stanford from the inaugural exhibition of the university’s new Zuckerman Museum of Art, opening this evening, March 1 (VIP reception at 5:00 p.m., public opening at 6:30).
KSU is a state public institution with an educational mission that should promote dialogue about history and difficult subjects, not squelch First Amendment rights and artistic expression.
Stanford’s work eloquently and tactfully addresses a contentious time in Georgia’s history and KSU’s controversial acquisition of property once owned by author and lynching apologist Corra Harris. In her installation, Stanford explores the complexity of Harris’s views and literary works, which are both “poetic and beautiful,” as Stanford says, and a reflection of the time in which she lived.
The “celebratory” opening that President Papp purports to be protecting has already been ruined by his very action, which undermines the autonomy and curatorial integrity of the museum staff.
We respectfully request that the Zuckerman Museum be allowed to reinstall Stanford’s artwork and that President Papp issue an apology to the artist and art community.
Please consider signing this petition here.
For more background information around this case please see:
Diego Bonetto, a casual exhibition installer at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Sydney, has walked off his job today over the museum’s involvement in the Sydney Biennale.
Open Letter to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney
3 March 2014
Hi guys, you know me. I have been working at the Museum for the past 12 years as a casual installer.
In this time, I have seen lots of things, lots of changes, lots of power struggles and heard endless amount of art gossip.
I am walking out of my job for this install.
It was all fine and dandy as we were taking down Yoko Ono, but then when we started working on installing the next exhibition, the 19th Biennale of Sydney, my guts began to revolt.
We all know what’s at stake here.
We all know that despite whatever we want to say to one another and the public, Transfield money is dirty money. Bloody money.
I am not inciting anyone into any action they do not want to do. I am not making a big fuss and/or painting slogans all over the walls. I respect the place, and most of all, I respect the people working within.
There are great mates at the MCA who have known me and what I do for a long time. They respect me and I respect them.
So this morning, I walked in, I stated my intentions and continued to help the crew sort themselves out, as I did not want to leave them stranded.
Once sorted, I walked out, and I am not coming back to help with this bloody 19th Biennale of Sydney.
You are all intelligent people, you all know what’s at stake
By all means, bring on the show, as we have done plenty before. But this time would be hard to ignore the reality of people sufferings.
This would actually be the time to send a clear message to the Australian government that its current asylum seeker policies are ‘ethically indefensible and a breach of human rights’.
However you want to look at it, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis is directly implicated in this.
Some journalist the other day said that after talking to Luca he felt sorry for him.
So do I, I replied. I feel sorry for him, the Biennale and the MCA.
But I feel way more sorry for the innocent people locked up on an island off the coast of Australia.
With all due respect,
For more background on the Sydney Biennale case please see here.
Artist Yuri Leiderman also calls for a boycott of Manifesta 10 in Petersburg. In a statement published on Art Ukraine he wrote:
I appeal to you as an artist, participant of the 1st Manifesta, European Biennale of contemporary art (1996, Rotterdam) and as native of Ukraine. It seems, the situation does not need extended explanation. My country experienced the cynic impertinent military aggression from Putin’s regime in Russia. Clearly St. Petersburg is a marvellous city and the Hermitage is one of the most famous museums around the world. Nevertheless, the organisers made the mistaken decision to host Manifesta 10 (2014) in a country where freedom of art expression is repressed, where imperial chauvinism and obscurantism are raised to state ideology. Today such a decision looks shameful. I call on you to support people of Ukraine in their hard struggle for independence and their future. I appeal to the international art community: BOYCOTT MANIFESTA 10 IN ST. PETERSBURG!
Yuri Leiderman, artist
Please forward to your colleges!
Я обращаюсь к вам как художник, участник 1-й Европейской Бьеннале Манифеста (Роттердам, 1996) и как уроженец Украины. Мне кажется, ситуация не нуждается в долгих пояснениях. Моя родина оказалась объектом наглой, циничной военной агрессии со стороны путинского режима России. Безусловно Санкт-Петербург − прекраснейший город, а Эрмитаж − один из лучших музеев мира. Однако решение проводить Манифесту 10 (2014) в стране, где попирается свобода художественного жеста, в стране, возведшей имперский шовинизм и мракобесие в ранг государственной идеологии, было изначально ошибочным. Сейчас же такое намерение представляется позорным. Я прошу вас поддержать народ Украины, ведущий труднейший бой за независимость и будущее своей страны!
Я обращаюсь к мировому художественному сообществу с призывом БОЙКОТА МАНИФЕСТЫ-10 В С. ПЕТЕРБУРГЕ!
Юрий Лейдерман, художник
Перешлите пожалуйста своим коллегам!
Appeal to the International Art Community
On March 1, 2014 the Russian Parliament authorized the use of military force in Ukraine. Russia’s intervention in Ukraine disregards all international norms and, especially, the “Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances” signed on December 5, 1994, when newly independent Ukraine gave up its arsenal of nuclear weapons. Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom pledged to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity; therefore this appeal is addressed primarily to the art communities of these countries.
When your government does not fulfil the international obligations it has accepted, can you still consider that you live and work in a lawful, civilized and humanitarian state?
Russia’s aggressive actions look like revenge for the Ukrainian people’s insistence on choosing Europe and ousting their dictatorial president, a choice that cost a hundred lives. Today Russia is an aggressor-state where culture is either forced to serve imperial propaganda or persecuted.
We call on you to actively denounce the imperial aggression of V.V. Putin, thus promoting the preservation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and, accordingly, peace in Europe.
We call for a boycott of cultural events that aim to represent Russia internationally (Manifesta, IV Moscow International Biennale for Young Art, etc.) and to support those cultural workers in Russia who dare to condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
We not only encourage your free choice of method in impacting your own national government, but insist on applying uncompromising pressure on the government of the state-aggressor. We also ask you to inform your country’s leadership and population – using all available means – about what has happened and is still happening in Ukraine. In this, we promise to offer whatever assistance we can.
The Assembly for Culture in Ukraine (Асамблея діячів культури України)
On February 23, 2014 in the building of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine in Kiev, a meeting of over 200 civic activists, cultural workers and artists created the Assembly for Culture in Ukraine, which has taken control of the state organ for cultural policy. From this moment, cultural activists will initiate and develop strategic reforms in the cultural sphere. The Assembly has been occupying the building since February 22 and will not leave until a commission begins an investigation, audit and systemic analysis of the previous activities of the Ministry of Culture. The Assembly demands the enactment of lustration laws for officials of the Ministry of Culture and that the new Minister be approved by the Assembly before appointment. The group has initiated the formation of expert committees in various areas of art, culture and cultural heritage to articulate proposals for introducing systemic reforms.
Воззвание к международному сообществу деятелей культуры
Интервенция России в Украину противоречит Будапештскому меморандуму о гарантиях безопасности Украины от 5 декабря 1994 года, когда Украина отказалась от статуса ядерной державы. Территориальную целостность Украины гарантировали Россия, США и Великобритания, поэтому это обращение касается преимущественно этих стран.
Когда ваши правительства не выполняют взятых на себя международных обязательств, можете ли вы считать, что живете и работаете в правовом, цивилизованном и гуманном государстве?
Агрессивные действия России являются местью за то, что народ Украины настоял на своем европейском выборе и, в итоге, завоевал его ценой сотни жизней, изгнав президента-диктатора. Россия сегодня — страна-агрессор, в которой культуру либо заставляют служить имперской пропаганде, либо уничтожают.
Мы призываем вас активно выступить с осуждением имперской агрессии В. В. Путина, тем самым способствуя сохранению территориальной целостности Украины, а, следовательно, – мира в Европе.
Мы призываем к бойкоту репрезентативных культурных событий, связанных с Россией (Манифеста, IV Московская международная биеннале молодого искусства и др.) и поддержке тех деятелей культуры России, которые отважились осудить российскую агрессию против Украины.
Мы взываем не только к вашему свободному выбору методов воздействия на правительства ваших стран, но и настаиваем на любом, насколько возможно жестком, давлении на правительство страны-агрессора.
Мы так же просим вас информировать всеми имеющимися у вас средствами население и правительства ваших стран, о том, что происходило и происходит в Украине. Мы гарантируем вам в этом максимально возможную помощь.
Ассамблея деятелей культуры Украины (Асамблея діячів культури України)
UPDATE on the February 22 protest action carried out by members of G.U.L.F., Occupy Museums and concerned artists, students, professors a the Guggenheim Museum, decrying the labor conditions on Saadiyat Island in the United Arab Emirates, where Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, a franchise of the Guggenheim in New York has been under construction. For more background information read here.
The posting is incorrect. The museum is not currently under construction. There are no workers on the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi site. It is also important to put the museum building project and our relationships in Abu Dhabi into context. We have had a collaborative relationship with TDIC (the authority responsible for building the museum) including working with them to improve the EPP (which governs workers rights), many of us have visited the construction village regularly and seen the living conditions that will be available to workers building the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, and, along with our colleagues at TDIC, we continue to invest in this relationship to encourage progress on labor issues in advance of any construction taking place.
The Abu Dhabi Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) had this to say in response to clarifications asked by Vartanian:
Kindly note that currently there is no construction taking place for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi – and therefore, no workers are on site. As the Saadiyat website correctly states, the only work that took place was in 2011 during two separate phases: the concrete pour for museum’s ‘back of house’ areas, as well as the platform from which the main museum and gallery structures will be built from; and the placement of 1,400 piles. We plan to announce the museum’s main contractor appointment this year, and with that construction is set to begin according to schedule for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi’s opening in 2017.
Members of G.U.L.F. issued this statement reacting to the above declarations:
Each time the Guggenheim speaks, its approach to migrant labour issues on Saadiyat Island sounds more like that of a global corporation than that of an educational or art institution. We would like to remind the Guggenheim that it’s a museum, with a mission to “explore ideas across cultures through dynamic curatorial and educational initiatives.” Museums should help the public come to a greater understanding of the global complexities we all face.
Each day the Guggenheim hides behind the excuse that “construction has not yet started on our building” is another day of evading decisions and actions which could prevent a future migrant worker’s servitude. Right now, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi’s infrastructure is being constructed. That infrastructure includes roads, sewage, water, electric, net pipes, etc., leading to the museum. But other components of the work are also under way. We can only assume that money has been transferred to the Guggenheim here in New York in order to hire the curators and administrators of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. We know that events off-site have already been organized. Works of art have certainly been bought, insured, and stored. Last but not least, Saadiyat Island is being sold to investors on the basis of the Guggenheim’s name, along with those of the Louvre, the British Museum and others. How can the Guggenheim claim that construction has not begun?
Even if we were to take at face value the claim that construction of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi has not begun, we would say the following: NOW thousands of workers who will build your museum are taking on the massive debt that will take them years to repay; NOW workers are being recruited with promises that will not be fulfilled, for jobs that will pay less than they expected; NOW workers are applying for the passports that may be confiscated as soon as they land in the UAE; and, surely, NOW is the time to do something about all of this.
It is unfortunate but not surprising that the Guggenheim refuses to open its doors to a serious public dialogue about the migrant labor issues in Abu Dhabi. A museum of its stature must foster public education about the conditions under which art is viewed. The Guggenheim is stepping back from this social responsibility as it focuses on expanding into new global markets.
As for the underpaid Guggenheim guards’ wages in New York, passing off culpability to a subcontractor is no longer an acceptable practice, even in the corporate world. The Guggenheim should pay all employees at least a living wage, even if they are on a contractor’s payroll.
Sadly, the Guggenheim’s latest response confirms our expectation. It has tried to hide behind technicalities and PR spin as it waits for news cycles to die down. We know the composition of their board and it does not surprise us. A 1% Global Museum with a 1% Board that cares very little about its lowest-paid employees and the example it is setting to the world.
We will be back.
(Global Ultra Luxury Faction)
The chairman of the Sydney Biennale and of its major sponsor Transfield Holdings, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, has resigned his position with the festival.
Organisers have announced that they will cut all ties with Transfield Holdings and with Transfield Services, a contractor for Australia’s network of immigration detention centres.
“We have listened to the artists who are the heart of the Biennale and have decided to end our partnership with Transfield effective immediately,” organisers said in a statement.
Read more here.
March 5th 2014
After much consideration we: Agnieszka Polska, Sara van der Heide, Nicoline van Harskamp and Nathan Gray, have decided to withdraw our works from the 19th Biennale of Sydney, because of its relation to Transfield, a company involved in the Australian government policy of mandatory detention.
Our motivations reflect those outlined in the statement issued by artists Ögüt, Castro, Ólafsson, Sofo and de Vietri on February 26th, added as a reference with this letter. They close their statement by expressing their hope that others will join them in “solidarity with all those who are working towards a better future for asylum seekers.” Our withdrawal is such an act of solidarity.
We have requested the Biennale that our withdrawal be registered on their website and signposted at the physical site of exhibition, so that this action will not be unnoticed.
Agnieszka Polska, Sara van der Heide, Nicoline van Harskamp and Nathan Gray
STATEMENT OF WITHDRAWAL
26 February 2014
We are five of the 41 artists – Libia Castro, Ólafur Ólafsson, Charlie Sofo, Gabrielle de Vietri and Ahmet Öğüt – who signed a letter to the Board of the Biennale of Sydney in relation to their founding sponsor, Transfield.
We make this statement in light of Transfield’s expanding management of Manus Island and Nauru immigration detention centres. We act in the wake of the death of Reza Berati from inside Manus Island detention centre on February 17. We are in urgent political circumstances with a government that is stepping up their warfare on the world’s most vulnerable people daily.
We have received indications from the Board of the Biennale and Transfield that there will be no movement on their involvement in this issue. In our letter to the Board we asked for action and engagement, but we are told that the issue is too complex, and that the financial agreements are too important to re-negotiate.
And so we make this statement from a critical juncture of political urgency and artistic autonomy.
This is a statement of our withdrawal from the 19th Biennale of Sydney.
We have revoked our works, cancelled our public events and relinquished our artists’ fees. While we have sought ways to address our strong opposition to Australia’s mandatory detention policy as participants of the Biennale, we have decided that withdrawal is our most constructive choice. We do not accept the platform that Transfield provides via the Biennale for critique. We see our participation in the Biennale as an active link in a chain of associations that leads to the abuse of human rights. For us, this is undeniable and indefensible.
Our withdrawal is one action in a multiplicity of others, already enacted and soon to be carried out in and around the Biennale. We do not propose to know the exact ethical, strategic or effective action to end mandatory detention, but we act on conscience and we act with hope.
We have chosen to redirect our energies into multiple forms of action: discussions, workshops, publications, exhibitions and works that will continue to fuel this debate in the public sphere. In this, we stand with our local and international communities that are calling for the closure of Australia’s offshore detention facilities. We ask for their active support in keeping this issue at the forefront of our minds, in the warmest part of our hearts, in the most urgent of discussions and in the most bold of actions, until the detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru close.
We withdraw to send a message to the Biennale urging them, again, to act ethically and transparently. To send a message to Transfield that we will not add value to their brand and its inhumane enterprise. Finally, and most importantly, we withdraw to send a message to the Australian Government that we do not accept their unethical policy against asylum seekers.
We ask that the Biennale of Sydney acknowledge the absence of our work from the exhibition. As the Biennale has offered to provide a platform and support for our dissent, we request that our withdrawal be registered on the Biennale website and signposted at the physical site of our projects. In the pervasive silence that the Government enforces around this issue, we will not let this action be unnoticed.
We act in solidarity with all those who are working towards a better future for asylum seekers. We hope that others will join us.
Gabrielle de Vietri
For more information please see: The Sydney Biennale Case: Open Letters.
Additionally, a statement from Ahmet Öğüt on the matter:
Making Decisions With Heart in Times of Crisis
Maintaining ethical standards in the art world is the responsibility not only of artists, but also cultural institutions and those who support them. Any decision taken by an institution should be made with respect for its public, the people who work for it and the artists who collaborate with it.
The most important criteria to safeguard are trust, sincerity and respect. I always saw biennales as a unique autonomous pedagogic site to explore ideas freely, to define the level of ethics in the art world without the need to prioritise profit, and to emphatically shape the zeitgeist of art in relation to life and society. Now I see that this position is in danger. Biennales cannot avoid their social and ethical responsibilities towards their public, their collaborators and artists when it comes to the source their finances.
The case of the Biennale of Sydney is not about asking individual artists to make decisions according to their own understanding and beliefs. This is misleading. If everyone is truly sincere, we cannot abandon one another. I don’t want to address a single target – not the Biennale itself, the sponsor, the artists, nor Australian Citizens in general. All I know is that we should unite in demanding a change to unethical policies.
I believe artists can have the most powerful impact, if– and when– they come together and share collective creative ideas in this moment of crisis. Even if only a few artists out of 94 participate, there is still an exhibition. But there would be no exhibition without all 94 artists.
It is our responsibility to prioritize collective, progressive, constructive and creative ideas in a moment of crisis such as this. It is time to give up our personal concerns as priorities and examine the real, sincere meaning behind what we all do and what we can achieve.
What I see here is a lack of ethical transparency; a last-minute call from an Australian citizen to boycott; a Biennale team and board that has known of its sponsor’s engagements for a very long time; invited artists left uninformed; as sponsor, Transfield Holdings without a clear distinction from Transfield Services, who is very well aware that their business decision as a major contractor on the highly criticized refugee detention camps at Manus Island and in Nauru is ethically indefensible; and the implications of this both on the cultural scene, and on the broader discussion of Australian citizens demanding an urgent change of policy from the Australian Government.
What we have now is a letter to the board of the Biennale signed by a group of deeply concerned participating artists, a public petition with more than one thousand signatories, and a rather insensitive statement by the Biennale Board in response stating “Artists must make a decision according to their own understanding and beliefs.” This turns the issue into an individual matter, and that is what is upsetting, instead of addressing a collective responsibility.
After all this conversation I have come to the conclusion that I must withdraw from the Biennale of Sydney. I would only rejoin the conversation if:
1. A majority group of participating artists decides to have a collective action challenging the current crisis.
2. If the BoS negotiates a transparent and ethical funding agreement with all sponsors.
3. If Transfield Services reconsiders its current agreements with government and the BoS is not implicated in any wealth generated from the mandatory detention policies.
4. If we all work together for a better future of the Biennale of Sydney, while sending a clear message to Australian Government that we will not accept the ethically indefensible policy of the mandatory detention of asylum seekers.
February – 2014
A view of the intervention from the floor of the atrium. (image provided by G.U.L.F. aka Global Ultra Luxury Faction)
Last night, over 40 protesters staged an intervention inside the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan during Saturday night’s pay-what-you-wish admission hours. Unfurling mylar banners, dropping leaflets, chanting words, handing out information to museum visitors, and drawing attention with the use of a baritone bugle, the group worked to highlight the labor conditions on Saadiyat Island in the United Arab Emirates, where Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, a franchise of New York’s Guggenheim, is being built.
Staged in the midst of the museum’s newly opened Futurism exhibition, the intervention, a term used by some members of the group to describe the action, received both applause from visitors who seemed excited by the commotion and reactions of confusion from others unsure what was going on.
Flyers raining down onto the floor of the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan, while protesters and chant and hold banners over the railings of the museum. (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted)
The intervention began at 6:45pm EDT with a bugle call and a loud question: “Who Is Building the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi?” The whole action continued for roughly 20 minutes, during which time security guards appeared to react slowly to the protesters as hundreds of museum visitors captured images and video of the protests.
The participants, who were a diverse groups of artists, professors, students, and activists loosely affiliated with Occupy Museums, Gulf Labor, and various NYU-affiliated groups, timed their protest to take place during the pay-what-you-can hours of the museum, which normally charges $22 admission for adults. When I asked organizers if they purposely chose their action to coincide with the Futurism exhibition and the Carrie Mae Weems retrospective, they told me that they did not but they were delighted for the coincidence since Futurism sought to combine art and politics, while Weems is a champion of those who have been historically excluded from museums.
“This is a new phases of the campaign, we’re moving beyond talk to action, and bringing it home obviously to the Guggenheim,” said Andrew Ross, a NYU professor of sociology, who is involved in the Gulf Labor coalition and the NYU Fair Labor coalition. “There are so many more people involved in this action that were not involved in Gulf Labor until this point. We’re widening the circle of participation and that will have an impact.”
Gulf Labor is a coalition of artists, academics, and activists, who have worked for over a year to ensure that the labor conditions on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, which will house Guggenheim and Louvre-branded museums and a NYU-affiliated university, do not exploit workers. Many human rights organizations say that the workers who are brought to Saadiyat Island are victimized by the nation’s sponsorship system and face grueling and inhuman conditions on a daily basis.
During our brief conversation, Ross explained how their work raising awareness about workers’ debt, which translates to a type of indentured servitude for migrant workers, is connected to much bigger issues.
“We’re trying to make a connection with chains of debt that are transnational, and in the various locations we’re looking at, Bangladesh, Abu Dhabi, NYU, and the art world, there’s an enormous accumulation of debt in each of these places, and the money is getting extracted by the transnational creditor class,” Ross said. “And artists are more and more [in debt], and in order to practice art, you’re required to take on a big debt burden … so there’s a connection across many continents. Another art world is possible, one that’s more principled and ethical, and that looks out for the human and labor rights of all. Artists should not be asked to exhibit in museums that have were built on the back of abused workers … that’s what it boils down to. When you’re acquired by a museum that does that, that’s unfair. Your complicity is being bought along with the artwork.”
A close up of some of the banners unfurled during the intervention.
The idea of using art as a way to reimagine the world was at the heart of another participant’s passion for the issue. “Art among other things is about doing, living, and imaging a better world,” said artist Nitasha Dhillon of MTL Collective. “Art should not violate human rights, art should not endanger workers lives, and art should not create debt slaves. And definitely not be part of a system that creates debt bondage.”
She sees yesterday’s actions as “a call for solidarity and a call for museums to do the right thing.” She added that “it’s important for museum goers to understand what kind of system they are participating in.”
One college student I spoke to, who originally hailed from China, said she was taking part in this, her first action, because it excited her to think about how art and social justice can work together to help change people’s lives. When I asked her how that interconnectedness changed her perception of art, she replied: “It changes art for the better for me.” She said she’d like to bring these ideas to China when she returns, though she was not clear about how.
One Polish artist who participated with the group dropped one-sided leaflets he printed and brought to the event. The ambiguous pieces of paper featured an eye, a recycling symbol, an EKG, and the words “Human Toy Tool.”
I recorded as much of the intervention as I could on my smartphone and it is posted here:
After guards removed all the remaining banners, the intervention participants slowly left the museum. One man, who was playing the bugle, was temporarily detained by the NYPD, though he was released after a few minutes without providing ID or other personal information.
Guggenheim guards, who were obviously unnerved by the event, yelled at one participant in front of the museum entrance. A few moments later, a guard came out to the street to tell hundreds of people lined up in front of the museum that no one else would be allowed into the building that evening. The crowd was visibly disappointed and many people lingered hoping the museum administration would change their mind.
Museum visitors reading the manifesto tacked to the wall beside the introductory text to the Futurism exhibition.
After the intervention, I encountered artist Amin Husain, who helped lead the chants, and I asked him if he thought it was all a success. “I think it was well-received by the people in the museum. One person told me that they didn’t know that was happening, so public education is really important,” he said. I asked him about the exhibitions themselves and whether he thought people understood what they were saying in that context, and he said he did: “I think the context is really appropriate, because they [the Futurists] talked about restructuring the universe, so clearly the museum is giving that some thought at this moment, and we want to talk about restructuring the universe without fascism and without slave labor.”
The intervention, which was the first by a new coalition that includes Occupy Museums, Gulf Labor, and various New York University-affiliated groups, came about after a month of meetings between the various organizations. The coalition, which was using the acronym G.U.L.F. (Gulf Ultra Luxury Faction) to identify themselves in their informational brochure, hope that this will be the first in a series that builds bridges in their continuing fight for social justice. The next event is scheduled for Wednesday, February 26, 5:15pm EDT, at NYU’s Global Center for Academic & Spiritual Life (GCASL), which is located at 238 Thompson Street, Room 369, in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.
Hyperallergic reached out to the Guggenheim Museum for comment last night and we have yet to hear back from the organization.
The G.U.L.F. coalition’s manifesto that was placed on the wall of the museum and read by visitors.
These were the words participants were chanting tonight (according to a text provided to Hyperallergic during the intervention):
Members of Occupy Museums had this to comment on the protest action:
Today in the Guggenheim, the Global Ultra-Luxury Faction [G.U.L.F.] which includes Occupy Museums joined together to call for labor justice in constructing the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. The fact that a bunch of institutions including Guggenheim, the Louvre, and NYU are building on a luxury island for the global 1% is a symptom of the increasing wealth inequality and concentration of capital. Art is not a luxury asset! Art should not be build on labor abuse! More info at gulflabor.org
Video Documentation of the Action at Guggenheim Museum February 22, 2014
Statement from Director Richard Armstrong in response to the protest:
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation is engaged in ongoing, serious
discussions with our most senior colleagues in Abu Dhabi regarding the
issues of workers’ rights. As global citizens, we share the concerns
about human rights and fair labor practices and continue to be committed
to making progress on these issues. At the same time, it is important to
clarify that the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is not yet under construction.
Richard Armstrong, Director
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation
Statement from G.U.L.F. in response to director Richard Amstrong:
Monday, February 24th
On Saturday, the G.U.L.F (Global Ultra Luxury Faction) staged a protest at the Guggenheim Museum in support of the rights of migrant workers in Abu Dhabi.
Earlier today, the Guggenheim director, Richard Armstrong issued a statement pointing out that construction has not begun on the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. In reality, however, construction on the Saadiyat Island infrastructure has been underway for several years, and the Guggenheim is central to the island’s overall development plan, along with the Louvre and NYU. Moreover, the Guggenheim brand is being used to promote the exclusive, ultra-luxury ambience of the island’s appeal to potential investors and tourists.
An in-depth discussion on Saadiyat Island is scheduled for Wednesday, February 26, 5:15pm EST, at NYU’s Global Center for Academic & Spiritual Life (GCASL), which is located at 238 Thompson Street, Room 369, in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.
Art is not a Luxury Asset for the Wealthiest Global Citizens.
In the course of the Saturday protest, we were outraged to learn about the inadequate pay of the museum’s security guards. As part of their efforts to keep us and the priceless art on display safe, they are paid a mere ten dollars an hour by one of the wealthiest institutions in New York and indeed globally. In New York City, this is not a living wage, by any estimates. The Guggenheim can and should be paying them more. As the wealth gap widens and the global 1% literally builds exclusive luxury islands, the fates of those left out are bound together. They include both Guggenheim’s NYC museum guards and migrant workers who are constructing the museums on Saadiyat Island.
Museums Should Not be Built on the Backs of Ill-Treated Workers.
We call on the Guggenheim Museum to open its doors to a free public assembly on these issues on Saturday March 1. We look forward to the conversation.
Museums Should Be Raising Labor Standards, Not Lowering Them.
(global ultra luxury faction)
For more background around the boycott of the biennale please see: Should artists boycott the Sydney Biennale over Transfield links?
19 February 2014
To the Board of Directors of the Biennale of Sydney,
We are a group of artists — Gabrielle de Vietri, Bianca Hester, Charlie Sofo, Nathan Gray, Deborah Kelly, Matt Hinkley, Benjamin Armstrong, Libia Castro, Ólafur Ólafsson, Sasha Huber, Sonia Leber, David Chesworth, Daniel McKewen, Angelica Mesiti, Ahmet Öğüt, Meriç Algün Ringborg, Joseph Griffiths, Sol Archer, Tamas Kaszas, Krisztina Erdei, Nathan Coley, Corin Sworn, Ross Manning, Martin Boyce, Callum Morton, Emily Roysdon, Søren Thilo Funder, Mikhail Karikis — all participants in the 19th Biennale of Sydney.
We are writing to you about our concerns with the Biennale’s sponsorship arrangement with Transfield.1
We would like to begin with an affirmation and recognition of the Biennale staff, other sponsors and donors, and our fellow artists. We maintain the utmost respect for Juliana Engberg’s artistic vision and acknowledge the support and energy that the Biennale staff have put into the creation of our projects and this exhibition. We acknowledge that this issue places the Biennale team in a difficult situation.
However, we want to emphasise that this issue has presented us with an opportunity to become aware of, and to acknowledge, responsibility for our own participation in a chain of connections that links to human suffering; in this case, that is caused by Australia’s policy of mandatory detention.
We trust that you understand the implications of Transfield’s recent move to secure new contracts to take over garrison and welfare services in Australia’s offshore immigration detention centres on Manus Island and in Nauru. We have attached for your information, a document that outlines our understanding of the links between the Biennale, Transfield and Australia’s asylum seeker policy.
We appeal to you to work alongside us to send a message to Transfield, and in turn the Australian Government and the public: that we will not accept the mandatory detention of asylum seekers, because it is ethically indefensible and in breach of human rights; and that, as a network of artists, arts workers and a leading cultural organisation, we do not want to be associated with these practices.
Our current circumstances are complex: public institutions are increasingly reliant on private finance, and less on public funding, and this can create ongoing difficulties. We are aware of these complexities and do not believe that there is one easy answer to the larger situation.
However, in this particular case, we regard our role in the Biennale, under the current sponsorship arrangements, as adding value to the Transfield brand. Participation is an active endorsement, providing cultural capital for Transfield.
In light of all this, we ask the Board: what will you do? We urge you to act in the interests of asylum seekers. As part of this we request the Biennale withdraw from the current sponsorship arrangements with Transfield and seek to develop new ones. This will set an important precedent for Australian and international arts institutions, compelling them to exercise a greater degree of ethical awareness and transparency regarding their funding sources. We are asking you, respectfully, to respond with urgency.
Our interests as artists don’t merely concern our individual moral positions. We are concerned too with the ways cultural institutions deal with urgent social responsibilities. We expect the Biennale to acknowledge the voice of its audience and the artist community that is calling on the institution to act powerfully and immediately for justice by cutting its ties with Transfield.
We believe that artists and artworkers can — and should — create an environment that empowers individuals and groups to act on conscience, opening up other pathways to develop more sustainable, and in turn sustaining, forms of cultural production.
We want to extend this discussion to a range of people and organisations, in order to bring to light the various forces shaping our current situation, and to work towards imagining other possibilities into being. In our current political circumstances we believe this to be one of the most crucial challenges that we are compelled to engage with, and we invite you into this process of engagement.
We look forward to hearing your response and given the urgency of this issue, hope that we can receive it by the end of this week.
Thank you for your consideration.
Gabrielle de Vietri, Bianca Hester, Charlie Sofo, Nathan Gray, Deborah Kelly, Matt Hinkley, Benjamin Armstrong, Libia Castro, Ólafur Ólafsson, Sasha Huber, Sonia Leber, David Chesworth, Daniel McKewen, Angelica Mesiti, Ahmet Öğüt, Meriç Algün Ringborg, Joseph Griffiths, Sol Archer, Tamas Kaszas, Krisztina Erdei, Nathan Coley, Corin Sworn, Ross Manning, Martin Boyce, Callum Morton, Emily Roysdon, Søren Thilo Funder, Mikhail Karikis, Sara van der Heide, Henna-Riikka Halonen, Ane Hjort Guttu, Hadley+Maxwell, Shannon Te Ao, Yael Bartana
NOTES 1. Please note that in this document we use the name Transfield to refer to three branches of the Transfield brand: Transfield Holdings, Services and Foundation.
The Sydney Biennale has issued the following statement in response to the open letter from concerned artists:
Firstly, let us say that we truly empathise with the artists in this situation.
Like them, we are inadvertently caught somewhere between ideology and principle. Both parties are ‘collateral damage’ in a complex argument. Neither wants to see human suffering.
Artists must make a decision according to their own understanding and beliefs. We respect their right to do so.
While being mindful of these valid concerns, it is this Board’s duty to act in the interests of the Biennale and all its stakeholders – our audiences, government partners, staff, benefactors and sponsors, along with all Biennale artists and the broader arts sector.
On the one hand, there are assertions and allegations that are open to debate. On the other, we have a long-term history of selfless philanthropy, which has been the foundation of an event that has served the arts and wider community for the past 40 years.
The Biennale’s ability to effectively contribute to the cessation of bi-partisan government policy is far from black and white. The only certainty is that without our Founding Partner, the Biennale will no longer exist.
Consequently, we unanimously believe that our loyalty to the Belgiorno-Nettis family – and the hundreds of thousands of people who benefit from the Biennale – must override claims over which there is ambiguity.
While we unequivocally state our support and gratitude for our sponsor’s continued patronage, we also extend an invitation to the Working Group to engage with us in dialogue with the purpose of finding an acceptable accommodation.
The Biennale has long been a platform for artists to air their sometimes challenging but important views unfettered and we would like to explore this avenue of expression, rather than see the demise of an important community asset.
Monday 17th February 2014
RISE: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees, is the first organisation in Australia to be governed entirely by refugees and asylum seekers. RISE consists of over 30 different refugee communities in Australia and exists to enable refugees and asylum seekers to build new lives by providing advice, engaging in community development, enhancing opportunities, and campaigning for refugee rights.
RISE supports a complete boycott of the 19th Sydney Biennale as Transfield, a major sponsor and partner of this event, receives income from the operation of Australia’s deadly offshore internment camps for refugees and asylum seekers.
In 2012, Australian Artist Van Thanh Rudd first called for a boycott of the 18th Sydney Biennale when Transfield Services won a $24.5 million Australian government contract to provide facilities in the Nauru asylum seeker detention camp.
Transfield’s income from these operations (as of February 2014) is over 300 million dollars, and they have now won yet another contract to run “welfare services” on both Nauru and Manus Island. At the same time, there are shocking reports of mistreatment and abuse in these camps including eye-witness accounts from medical staff, welfare officers and other former detention staff.
In addition to organisations such as Amnesty and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees cataloguing these abuses, Pakistani news outlet Dawn recently reported the story of a Hazara asylum seeker whose two siblings died in 2013 on Nauru. The family had fled from Quetta, Pakistan, after their father was shot dead in the local market. The asylum seeker described appalling conditions in the Nauru camp, including being held in overcrowded tents with little privacy and security. The asylum seeker’s brother was stabbed to death and his sister died in his arms from pneumonia due to inadequate treatment. In short, Australia and Transfield have the blood of refugees on their hands.
In 2011, RISE made submission to an Australian parliamentary enquiry predicting that unchecked expansion of Australia’s privatised detention network would lead to a US-style private prison industrial complex where immigration policy would be shaped by corporations who profit from misery. Our predictions have unfortunately come true: a report released in 2013 by the US based Sentencing Project, stated that Australia has the largest private prison population in the world thanks to its asylum seeker policy.
Participation in the Sydney Biennale sponsored by Transfield makes artists partners in a system that silences the voices of refugees and asylum seekers and profits from their misery.
If you believe that refugees are entitled to the right to protection of life, freedom, dignity and respect, we ask that you take a stand and not participate or support this event or any other event that benefits from the dirty profits of Australia’s racist, anti-refugee industry.
You can sign the Petition to the Board of Directors of the Sidney Biennale to cut ties with Transfield here.