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Precarious Workers Brigade// Open letter of solidarity with those who have withdrawn their labour from the Sydney Biennale and with detainees

March 18, 2014

The Precarious Workers Brigade would like to express solidarity with those who have withdrawn their labour from the Sydney Biennale and the working group at large for making this tragedy public and drawing the art world’s attention to this unacceptable situation. We recognise this as a significant collective act of solidarity with the detainees of Australia’s offshore detention centres.

Hearing the news that the Biennale has dropped the Transfield sponsorship following the resignation of the Chair of the Board, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis (also director of Transfield Holdings), shows that the boycott has made an impact, that the criminal treatment of people is not tolerated and that the withdrawal of labour in a notoriously fragmented and un-unionised sector can be effective.

As a collective of precarious cultural and educational workers based in the UK, we are also campaigning against the corporatisation of the arts. As with many friends and colleagues and a growing number of collectives around the world, we are finding that companies engaging in corrupt and criminal practices are buying out the social license to operate with impunity by sponsoring art and culture. These activities should be contested, because these practices are not mutually beneficial. Corporate interests do not operate at a contractual distance but are often embedded in the governance of public arts institutions with company execs sitting on the board. As cultural workers we have to ask: Whose interests are these institutions serving?

Liz Thompson – a migration agent who resigned her post at Manus Island recently – has said that ‘these detention centres are not designed as a processing facility, but designed as an experiment in the active creation of horror to deter people from trying.’ This echoes what Angela Davis recently expressed in an interview, that migration control is the fastest growing side of the prison-industrial complex. We agree that participating in what you have so succinctly described as the ‘active link in a chain of associations that leads to the abuse of human rights’ is indeed indefensible.

We must therefore keep the struggle of those detained, as well as their acts of resistances at the centre of our focus, while we undertake any means of pressure that are available to us, to change this violent practice of Australian government and all the agencies who make profit from human suffering.

We are surprised at the latest move by the Arts Minister, who has asked the Australia Council to develop a policy to penalise arts organisations that refuse funding from corporate sponsors on ‘unreasonable grounds’. This request shows how deep the hold that corporate capital has on the government itself. Boycotting institutions and events that are supplying companies with the necessary green/ethical wash by withdrawing labour and cultural capital, or refusing to co-operate or visit, can be a collective approach to pushing for change in the ethos and ethics not only of a cultural institution, but also of our own conception and imaginary of what culture and art are and could be. Implication is inevitable. But complicity is a choice.

We would therefore like to extend our solidarity with everyone who is imprisoned in Australia’s detention centres and others around the world and to all those struggling against these injustices.

We hope that your action of active refusal and loud resistance will have a growing resonance, inspiring more people to take action against abuse.

As fellow workers in culture, we thank you for taking a stand and turning a difficult career decision into an inspiring action.

Solidarity Forever!

Precarious Workers Brigade

UK, March 2014.


Image: Drawing from one of the artists in Mike Compound, Manus Island Detention Camp.



For more information about the Biennale of Sydney boycott please see: Open Letter to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, March 2014; Artists Withdraw from the 19th Sydney Biennale over Transfield Sponsorship, February 2014; The Sydney Biennale Case: Open Letters, February 2014; Should artists boycott the Sydney Biennale over Transfield links? February 2014

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