Week 6 . Guy Mannes-Abbott . me, we, the, be/coming migrant

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Guy Mannes-Abbott, poster, 2013 

Derived from presentations given at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, Exeter, UK, and the Academy of Fine Art, Oslo, Norway, during Fall 2013. (Thanks K.)
This week’s contribution to Gulf Labor’s 52 Weeks is by Guy Mannes-Abbott
To download, print, or simply see a higher resolution version of the poster, please click here
In his famous text ‘Beyond Human Rights’ (1993), Giorgio Agamben described the 20th century refugee as the paradigmatic “figure for the people of our time”. I would suggest that the migrant worker is the 21st century equivalent of this configuration of the refugee. “Only in a world in which … the citizen has been able to recognize the refugee that he or she is … is the political survival of humankind today thinkable.”
Meanwhile, on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, even government-appointed monitors reported that “75% of [migrant] workers interviewed paid recruitment fees and 77% had paid visa and travel costs (:) the most significant factor in creating conditions of forced labor in the UAE” (HRW quoting PwC, September 2012). Approximately 80% of the UAE’s population is migrant, with no prospects of permanent residence.

On Saadiyat, Rafael Vinoly’s NYU campus has been built, and Jean Nouvel’s Louvre AD is being built, by that “forced labor”. The foundations of Norman Foster’s Zayed National Museum and Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim AD have been laid by the same means. Before further memorialising a dishonorable legacy (contracts to build-out the latter schemes are expected spring 2014), they have time, occasion and opportunity to change course.

—Guy Mannes-Abbott


Gulf Labor is a coalition of artists and activists who have been working since 2011 to highlight the coercive recruitment, and deplorable living and working conditions of migrant laborers in Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island (Island of Happiness). Our campaign focuses on the workers who are building the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi, and the Sheikh Zayed National Museum (in collaboration with the British Museum). 

“52 Weeks” is a one year campaign starting in October 2013. Artists, writers, and activists from different cities and countries are invited to contribute a work, a text, or action each week that relates to or highlights the unjust living and working conditions of migrant laborers building cultural institutions in Abu Dhabi.

To learn more visit: www.gulflabor.org

For additional information, please email: contact@gulflabor.org

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