Letter from Six Documenta Curators to Institutions in the UAE

July 2, 2015

TO:
HE Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Chairman, Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, Abu Dhabi, UAE.

CC:
Richard Armstrong, Director, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, New York, NY, USA.
William Mack, Chairman, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, NY, USA.
John Sexton, President, New York University, New York, NY, USA.
Al Bloom, Vice Chancellor, New York University Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Carol Brandt, Associate Vice Chancellor, New York University Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Manuel Rabaté, Directeur Général, Agence France-Muséums, Paris, France.
Jean-François Charnier, Directeur Scientifique, Agence France-Muséums, Paris, France.
Jean-Luc Martinez, President-Director, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.
Neil MacGregor, Director, British Museum, London, UK.
Sheikha Hoor Al-Qasimi, President, Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE

We write to you today as the current and former Artistic Directors of Documenta, the most widely visited and respected periodic exhibition of contemporary art, held since the end of World War II in the German City of Kassel. Documenta has marked the most significant moments in the history of Modern and Contemporary Art since the mid twentieth century, and prides itself for its research-oriented approach and for having a particular focus on the relations between art and society at large. It has contributed to processes of civil society building and democratization around the world through its presentation of great and concerned works of art.

Recently, one of the most significant artists of our time from the Arab World, Walid Raad, was denied entry to the UAE on grounds of “security”, while he was entering the UAE to attend the renowned and excellent March Meetings of the Sharjah Art Foundation. Just a few days prior, this same action was taken against artist Ashok Sukumaran. This comes after NYU professor Andrew Ross was similarly barred from flying to Abu Dhabi in March of this year. Sukumaran and Raad have been working and showing for years in the UAE, on the invitation of local institutions, and are also artists who have participated in prior editions of Documenta. Ross is a well-known part of New York’s academic community. Given the peaceful nature of these three individuals, we may unfortunately presume that the reason these three members of our global arts and academic community were denied entry to the UAE is because of their involvement with the Gulf Labor Coalition. Gulf Labor is an artist-initiated group that has been engaged in various ways since 2010 with museums and institutions being built on Saadiyat Island, with the aim to create better conditions for their workers.

We write today to voice our opposition to the ban, and to respectfully request that you lift this unjust ban, since there is no security threat from them at all in our opinion. In the name of art and culture, and freedom of passage for well-meaning people, we ask that you allow Walid Raad, Ashok Sukumaran and Andrew Ross to freely travel to the Emirates and engage in fruitful international dialogue.

Regardless of whether we individually support or disagree with the positions taken by members of Gulf Labor, we believe that artists and academics should be allowed to conduct research and work that is done in a meaningful and productive manner. We urge you, as concerned authorities, to lift these bans and return the universe of art to its just place within the realm of the imagination and our shared futures.

Sincerely,

Rudi Fuchs, artistic director documenta 7, 1982
Catherine David, artistic director documenta 10, 1997
Okwui Enwezor, artistic director documenta 11, 2002
Roger M. Buergel, artistic director documenta 12, 2007
Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, artistic director documenta 13, 2012
Adam Szymczyk, artistic director documenta 14, 2017

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