Gulf Labor statement on the Boycott and UAE Travel Restrictions
March 9, 2017
We would like to offer the following statement, as many of our friends, colleagues, fellow signatories, as well as allies within institutions in the region and around the world gather once more in the Gulf this spring.
Since 2011 the Gulf Labor Coalition (GLC) — whose campaign includes more than 2000 signatories— has maintained that until the well-documented conditions of worker exploitation and abuse on Saadiyat Island are remedied, we will not participate in the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi project.
In the past year, questions have been raised about the museum’s future, as tenders for the construction of its building did not go out as announced. Acquisitions for the museum have continued, and recently the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi announced a second on-site show from its collection, The Creative Act: Performance, Process, Presence, which opened on Saadiyat Island this week.
We wish to reiterate with this statement that the call to boycott is in place, and our collective advocacy campaign will continue. GLC, and the NGO coalition we have assembled, remain open to dialogue with the museum, TDIC, and anyone else with an interest in workers’ rights in the region, despite the museum leadership’s decision, last spring, to walk away from talks.
Workers camp on Saadiyat Island in 2011, Hans Haacke.
Gulf Labor members Naeem Mohaiemen (text) and Hans Haacke (photos) contribute an “Artists Op-Ed” to the Walker Art Centre’s Magazine.
“Defiance is welcomed when it is sanctioned and staged as art. Drill a crater in the floor, flood a gallery, embalm an animal, smash an object, stage a pitiful death—critics hail these gestures as having the power to “shape worlds.” But when artists sit down at a conference table with museum administrators and read from a list of demands for labor rights, this work—involving conversation, negotiation, research, protest—suddenly becomes illegible to the same museum. The artists whose projects were previously praised as stretching boundaries are now tagged as maverick spoilers.”
You can read the entire piece here:
The Helsinki City Council has voted against the proposed Guggenheim by 53 to 32 votes, ending a 4-year debate and campaign. Among those involved in the campaign were Checkpoint Helsinki, which floated the Next Helsinki alternative competition in association with G.U.L.F., and who will release their book the “The Helsinki Effect – Public Alternatives to Guggenheim Model of Culture Development” in Helsinki this month.
And the BWI, whose statement on the Guggenheim Helsinki is here.
New York Times
October 4, 2016
To Signatories of the Gulf Labor Campaign
Subject: Gulf Labor Addresses Guggenheim’s Silence
We, the organizing committee of Gulf Labor, are writing to you with an update on our work.
Since 2010, we have advocated for labor rights guidelines for ethical museum construction and maintenance in the Gulf region. Our campaign focused on Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, but we have also been critical of the absence of labor rights at the already constructed NYU Abu Dhabi, the currently ongoing construction of Louvre Abu Dhabi, and other cultural institutions in the region. We have always understood this struggle to have global implications. The rights and fair wages we have advocated apply to precarious migrant workers, as much as to non-unionized citizen workers, who are building and maintaining global institutions that support and exhibit our work. Our hope is that labor rights won for workers in the Gulf would be an inspiration for institutions elsewhere.
In spite of several positive developments generated by our campaign – changes in employment regulations (EPP) on Saadiyat Island, periodic reports by Gulf Labor, official monitoring reports by PricewaterhouseCoopers, greater public awareness around migrant labor issues, affinity groups working on campaigns elsewhere – the Guggenheim leadership abruptly broke off meetings with Gulf Labor in April 2016. In response to this, Gulf Labor, the NGO coalition we had assembled, and a group of artists in Guggenheim’s “Storm is Blowing” show all joined in urging the Museum to return to the negotiating table with Gulf Labor and/or the NGO coalition.
We waited four months for a positive response from the Guggenheim or TDIC (Abu Dhabi’s Tourism, Development & Investment Company), but there was none. In the meantime, media reports show that the Finnish government has declined to fund the Guggenheim Helsinki, and that we are in the midst of a slowdown in spending on cultural activities in the Gulf. Key members of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi team left the project in fall 2016, following earlier departures of senior Guggenheim staff involved with the project in 2015.
When the Guggenheim walked away from six years of negotiations with Gulf Labor in April, director Richard Armstrong singled out our tactics as the reason. It now appears that this response was openly duplicitous. In fact, the museum leadership has also refused any further dialogue with the leading human rights organizations that Gulf Labor brought to the table.
For years, the Guggenheim has protested about being singled out among the arts institutions invested in Saadiyat Island. Accordingly, Human Rights Watch and the ITUC wrote to all three museums, inviting them to a summit in Brussels or London. While openly encouraging such an initiative, the Guggenheim (along with the British Museum) flatly turned down this invitation, and the Guggenheim never bothered to respond when further questioned by HRW and the ITUC about the future of dialogue with the NGOs. This is another bad decision on the part of the museum’s leadership. Either that or they are forbidden by their Gulf paymaster to talk to anyone with expertise in the field of human and labor rights.
In the meantime, the museum has declared its trust in the labor monitoring process overseen by TDIC. Here is our response to the latest monitoring report from PricewaterhouseCooper, which clearly shows how many of TDIC’s employee policies continue to go unenforced.
Here are the letters sent by the Guggenheim and the British Museum. The Louvre never responded at all.
On April 17, 2016, the Director of the Guggenheim Museum Richard Armstrong, announced breaking off negotiations with Gulf Labor a coalition of artists, writers, and scholars who for six years have worked to draw attention to the conditions under which the future Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will be built. Continue reading
The artists listed below have work included in the Guggenheim Museum’s collection and in the UBS MAP exhibition: But a Storm is Blowing from Paradise: Contemporary Art of the Middle East and North Africa. We express our disappointment over the Guggenheim Museum and Foundation’s recent decision to end dialogue with the Gulf Labor Coalition, concerning labor practices in the construction of their Abu Dhabi Museum. As artists connected in various ways to this region, we believe in new institutions as cultural forces; we support their creation but also believe they can be catalysts for greater social change. We hope that the Guggenheim remains committed to innovation on both a representational as well as a structural level. Furthermore, we believe that dialogue is the most productive way forward for all parties involved. This exhibition is one form of dialogue and we regret that it opens amidst the current development in the exchange between the museum and GLC. We urge the museum to reconsider and reverse its decision to terminate its dialogue with GLC and affiliated NGOs.
“Bidoun Projects supports the ongoing work of the Gulf Labor Coalition, a transnational group of artists, writers, and scholars who for six years have worked to draw attention to the conditions under which the future Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will be built, and to the precarious status of migrant workers in the region.
Last week, after years of dialogue, the Guggenheim announced that it would no longer engage in direct discussions with the coalition. While the GLC has not asked Bidoun to withdraw our film program at this time, we trust that talks between the Guggenheim and the coalition will be resumed forthwith and that the welfare of the workers building the museum in Abu Dhabi will be guaranteed.”
- issued as part of the announcement of the film and video program, curated by Bidoun Projects, accompanying the upcoming exhibition But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise: Contemporary Art of the Middle East and North Africa at the Guggenheim New York.
Summary: In its 4th annual report, the PwC monitor reiterated its previous findings by reporting serious oversights and deficiencies in the Tourism Development & Investment Company’s compliance with its own Employment Practices Policy on Saadiyat Island. Moreover, some of the new findings suggest serious flaws in the monitor’s own methodologies.
On April 27, after the Guggenheim ended negotiations with Gulf Labor Coalition to protect workers in Abu Dhabi, members of G.U.L.F. used the walls of the Guggenheim museum in New York to send a message to the trustees. Their statement in full:
April 27, 2016
Tonight, the Global Ultra Luxury Faction (G.U.L.F.) used the walls of the Guggenheim Museum to send a clear message to the trustees of the Guggenheim Foundation. We also took the message to the building of the chairman of the board. A museum that seeks to profit from forced labor will be judged in public. The cynical marriage of ultra-luxury art and ultra-low wages is null and void.
The museum’s leaders broke trust by refusing further negotiations with the Gulf Labor Coalition over fair labor standards in Abu Dhabi. As they try to walk away from justice, who will hold them to account?
Every Day is May Day
A Storm is Blowing from Saadiyat Island