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La réaction de Gulf Labor aux commentaires méprisants de Jean Nouvel à propos du traitement des ouvriers sur le chantier du Louvre Abu Dhabi

English below:

Dans une lettre adressée au Louvre, datée du 13 juillet 2015, la Gulf Labor Coalition avait déclaré: « le Louvre Abu Dhabi a la possibilité de jouer un rôle positif dans les conditions de travail sur l’île de Saadiyat.” La Gulf Labor Coalition avait invité le Louvre à travailler de concert à l’amélioration des conditions de travail sur l’île, et “à les changer grâce à une action collective sérieuse.” À ce moment-là, Gulf Labor demandait au musée confirmation de la mort d’un des employés de la compagnie Arabtec sur le chantier du dôme de Jean Nouvel [pour le Louvre]. La confirmation était arrivée quelques jours plus tard, mais l’ouvrier pakistanais de 28 ans était déjà mort un mois plus tôt, le 8 juin 2015.

Les conditions de travail et de vie des ouvriers sur le chantier du Louvre Abu Dhabi sont-elles “une question ancienne”, pour citer un propos récent de Jean Nouvel dans le quotidien anglais the Guardian. L’architecte français continue à mépriser des questions largement répandues et partagées concernant les conditions de travail sur l’île de Saadiyat. « Au début (du chantier) nous avons vu où vivaient les ouvriers, et leurs conditions, pour vérifier que tout était fait correctement … Nous avons vérifié et ça allait. Nous n’avons vu aucun problème. »

Si l’on en croit nos propres recherches et travaux de terrain, et cela a été confirmé par nombre d’autres, ce genre de déclaration, qui reprend simplement comme des faits les éléments de langage émis par les relations publiques des autorités d’Abu Dhabi, n’est pas seulement une falsification des conditions réelles des ouvriers qui ont construit le Louvre et qui continuent de trimer sur l’île de Saadiyat ; elle témoigne aussi de la même espèce de déconnection entre la réalité et l’intérêt personnel que celle qui motive les combats pour que justice soit rendue aux travailleurs dans le cas du chantier de New York University et du Guggenheim.

Alors que le Louvre Abu Dhabi court vers son ouverture officielle, prévue le mois prochain,  il laisse dans son sillage une grève violemment réprimée en 2013, lorsque les revendications des employées d’Arabtec ont été accueillies par des emprisonnements de masse et des avis d’expulsion. Bien que cet événement eût été largement documenté, ce n’était qu’une parmi tant d’autres manifestations de protestation de travailleurs censurées par les media dans les UAE. Nouvel a beau réitérer des platitudes sur l’« universalité et [la] philosophie », derrière sa prétention de construire « pour le peuple, les civilisations, l’humanité. », se cache une volonté claire d’effacer les voix et les réclamations de travailleurs qui continuent d’oser demander des salaires et des conditions de vie décents.

GLC se fait l’écho de celles et ceux qui continuent à défendre les droits de ces travailleurs . Le Louvre Abu Dhabi a une dette à payer: il doit rembourser les frais de recrutement et les salaires qui ont été perdus du fait de la criminalisation, de l’emprisonnement, du licenciement, et de l’expulsion des travailleurs grévistes. Imaginer qu’on peut aisément compartimenter le monde de la haute culture et les conditions dans lesquelles ses institutions sont réalisées, c’est cela la vraie «histoire ancienne ». De telles institutions ne peuvent plus être les repères de l’état de notre avancement culturel.

Par cette déclaration présente, Gulf Labor réitère son boycott des institutions culturelles sur l’île de Saadiyat et la poursuite de ses campagnes de soutien collectives. GLC, en compagnie de la coalition d’ONG et de travailleurs.euses culturel.le.s qui a été rassemblée, reste ouverte au dialogue avec tous les musées sur l’île de Saadiyat, avec [l’agence touristique culturelle] TDIC et avec tous.te.s ceux.celles qui soutiennent les droits des travailleurs dans la région. Nos revendications n’ont pas changé: de voir une amélioration durable dans la situation de milliers de travailleurs sur l’île de Saadiyat, y compris sur la question des salaires, des dettes contractées pendant leur recrutement et leur capacité à se représenter eux- mêmes.

Gulf Labor Coalition

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Gulf Labor Responds to Jean Nouvel’s Dismissive Comments on The Louvre Abu Dhabi’s Treatment of Workers

Thur. Oct 5, 2017

In a  letter to the Louvre dated July 13, 2015, the Gulf Labor Coalition stated: “the Louvre Abu Dhabi has the ability to play a positive role in worker’s conditions on Saadiyat Island.” The Gulf Labor Coalition invited the Louvre to work together on the betterment of working conditions on the island, and “to change them through serious collective action.” At the time, Gulf Labor asked the museum for a confirmation of a death of one of the Arabtec employees working on the Jean Nouvel dome. The confirmation came a few days later, but the 28 year-old Pakistani worker had died a month earlier, on June 8th.
 
Are the conditions of the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s workers simply “an old question,” as Jean Nouvel was recently quoted as saying in the Guardian? The French architect continues to be dismissive of the widespread concerns about working conditions on Saadiyat Island: “At the beginning,” he reports, “we saw the places where the workers live, and their conditions to check that it was correctly done … We checked and it was fine. We saw no problem.”
 
According to our own, and others’, research and field assessments, these kinds of statements, which simply take the PR talking points of Abu Dhabi authorities as facts, are not only a falsification of the real condition of the workers who built the Louvre and continue to toil on Saadiyat Island, but they indicate the same kind of disconnection between reality and self-interest which has marked the struggles for worker justice in the case of NYU and the Guggenheim.
 
As the Louvre Abu Dhabi presses on towards its opening, scheduled for next month, it leaves in its path a harshly repressed labor strike in 2013. when the demands of Arabtec employees were met with mass imprisonment and deportations. While this event was widely reported, it was only one of many such worker protests which are subject to a media blackout in the UAE. Nouvel reiterates platitudes about “universality and philosophy”, but behind his claim to be working for “people, for civilizations, for humanity”, there is a clear will to efface the voices and plights of workers who built his museum and who continue to dare to ask for decent wages and living conditions.
 
GLC echoes those who continue to advocate for these workers. The Louvre Abu Dhabi has a debt to pay: it must refund workers’ recruitment fees and wages lost due to criminalization, imprisonment, termination and deportation of workers who go on strike. Imagining that one can cleanly compartmentalize the world of high culture from the conditions in which its institutions are realized, is the real “old question”. These institutions can no longer be the benchmarks of our cultural advancement.  
 
With this statement, Gulf Labor reiterates that its boycott of cultural institutions on Saadiyat Island remains in place, and our collective advocacy campaign continues. GLC and the coalition we have assembled between engaged cultural workers and NGOs, remain open to dialogue with all of the museums on Saadiyat, TDIC, and all who support workers’ rights in the region. Our demands have not changed: to see a long term improvement in the situation of thousands of laborers on Saadiyat Island– including wages, recruitment debts, good living conditions, and their ability to represent themselves.

Gulf Labor Coalition

Op-Ed in the Walker Arts Magazine

Image: 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:
http://www.walkerart.org/magazine/gulf-labor-hans-haacke-naeem-mohaiemen

Helsinki say NO to Guggenheim Helsinki

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.
Press coverage:
New York Times
The Guardian

Artists in Guggenheim “Storm” show urge return to negotiations

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.

Abbas Akhavan
Kader Attia
Ali Cherri
Mariam Ghani
Joana Hadjithomas
Iman Issa
Khalil Joreige
Hassan Khan
Ahmad Mater
Zineb Sedira

Statement from Bidoun

“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.

Gulf Labor Responds to Guggenheim Breaking off Negotiations

GADcrossedPress release (PDF) here: 
https://gulflabor.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Gulf_Labor_Press_Release_Apr18.pdf

Timeline (PDF):
https://gulflabor.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Gulf_Labor_Timeline_April18.pdf

Guggenheim Breaks Off Negotiations with Gulf Labor

On April 13, 2016, Guggenheim Board of Trustees unilaterally severed negotiations with the Gulf Labor Coalition (GLC). In a conference call, the Guggenheim1 informed GLC that they will no longer meet with us, nor listen to our proposals about the living and working conditions of the workers who are and will be building museums in Abu Dhabi.

On April 17, 2016, Richard Armstrong, Director of the Guggenheim Museum, sent an email to artists, art critics, curators, and museum directors all over the world describing GLC as a group that “continues to shift its demands,” is “continuing to spread mistruths,” and uses “deliberate falsehoods”.2 He insisted that no work had begun on the Abu Dhabi site, a recurring claim that GLC has already challenged.3
Continue reading Gulf Labor Responds to Guggenheim Breaking off Negotiations

  1. Represented by Juan Ignacia Vidarte (Deputy Director and Chief Officer for Global Strategies), Tina Vaz (Deputy Director, Global Communications), and Hanan Sayyed Worrell (Guggenheim senior representative in Abu Dhabi). []
  2. See http://hyperallergic.com/291594/guggenheim-breaks-off-negotiations-with-gulf-labor-over-migrant-rights []
  3. https://gulflabor.org/2015/construction-of-the-guggenheim-abu-dhabi-has-not-yet-begun-a-response []

The Guardian on the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and finances on Saadiyat

louvrebirth

The Guardian has a long piece today on the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and Saadiyat Island’s developments.

The large financial deals are recapped in the article, as below:

“In 2007, Abu Dhabi signed a deal with French officials worth over £663m to buy the use of the Louvre’s name, to construct the Jean Nouvel-designed building that will house the art, and to facilitate special exhibitions and cultural loans from French institutions. The museum is scheduled to open next year. The Louvre branding itself is worth over half the value of the total: £344m for a period of 30 years.

A similarly gargantuan sum was promised to the Guggenheim, which will open its outpost in Abu Dhabi in 2017 or later (the project has been much delayed). Curators have been granted a £400m budget for new acquisitions, while the museum designed by Frank Gehry – a medieval jumble of cones and impossible angles – will cost £530m to build.”

Note that these figures are in UK Pounds.

Our financial proposals to the Guggenheim include a better and living wage for workers ( 25 percent above the 250 USD per month average) and a one time debt relief fund of USD 2,000 per worker, which assuming 7,500 workers is 15 million USD.  That’s just about 1 percent of the combined building and acquisitions budget.

These demands are detailed below (from a letter to the Guggenheim dated March 6, 2015):

Gulf Labor proposes that:

1. Guggenheim Abu Dhabi create a Debt Settlement Fund (DSF) to compensate every worker who is building its museum on Saadiyat Island an additional $2,000 on top of wages earned (or, assuming an aggregate workforce of 7500—as in the case of the Louvre — around $15 million in additional total payments to workers). The DSF will address one of the most intractable labor problems in the UAE: recruitment debt. Independent investigators have established that the average recruitment debt burden per worker is $2000. (1)

2. Guggenheim Abu Dhabi ensures a fair wage for all workers employed on its construction site. Recent scholarly analysis of the UAE migrant labor market has demonstrated that wages are depressed by at least 25% relative to previous levels of compensation. (2) Moreover, our own research has found great disparities among workers, based on the place of origin, caste and community and terms of contract, even for the same work. We will work with the museum to establish a living wage for all workers on the site. This living wage will compensate both for the 25% wage depression and for the disparities cited above.

3. Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will work to guarantee workers have the freedom to associateand the right to collectively address grievances. This will prevent the growing cycle of intimidation and violence, imprisonment and deportation that has taken place, especially since 2013.