Gulf Labor: “Recent activities appear focused more on “image management,” including the hiring of the PR firm Brunswick Group to respond to the activities of groups and individuals that raise issues relating to labor conditions on Saadiyat Island. Chairman William L. Mack, and President Jennifer Blei Stockman of the Guggenheim Foundation’s Board of Trustees, as well as those advising the authorities in Abu Dhabi and TDIC, need to recognize that this issue cannot be solved by treating it as a public relations problem.” Continue reading Gulf Labor: “Guggenheim Continues to Treat Worker Abuse as PR Problem”
Art Fag City: “We have now received leaked email correspondence between the Guggenheim and Molly Crabapple while she was working on this story. These emails reveal a shocking unwillingness to provide any statement to journalists who [Guggenheim] speculate[s] might be involved in any pro-worker activist efforts, such as Gulf Labor. “
She explains that the worker, identified by the pseudonym “Vijay,” was paid $2,100 in recruitment fees in 2004, but that, after a decade of work, now makes $217 a month Continue reading Molly Crabapple: At Guggenheim Abu Dhabi work site
Ramadan Soaps: The Workers Will Not Be Televised (Creative Time Reports)
By Monira Al Qadiri Kuwait City, Kuwait
During Ramadan, watching TV series—many created specifically for the month of fasting—becomes a social event for millions of Muslims around the world. Here, the Kuwaiti artist Monira Al Qadiri manipulates soap operas produced in the Gulf to highlight a missing figure: the migrant worker who cleans up the lavish homes where melodramatic scenes unfold.
Continue reading Ramadan Soaps: The Workers Will Not Be Televised
By its local partner Khaleej Times, because of cover story detailing labor abuses during the construction of NYU Abu Dhabi’s campus on Saadiyat Island.
New York Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy told Al Jazeera: “We’ve been in touch with our local printer to express our profound disappointment in this decision, which we understand was based on their objection to this one particular article. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time this has happened in the UAE.”
Al Jazeera: NY TIMES SAYS UAE HALTED PUBLICATION OVER ARTICLE ABOUT LABOR ABUSES
Newsweek: UAE Halts Printing of New York Times Over Damning NYU Labor Article
Capital New York: U.A.E. printer stops presses on International New York Times
Hyperallergic: Emirates Censors International New York Times Over Saadiyat Labor Report
Online version here
On the invitation of TDIC, master-developers of Saadiyat Island, members of Gulf Labor visited the worker accommodations on Saadiyat Island on March 17, and the Louvre and the Guggenheim sites on March 20, 2014. The below document outlines this group’s main observations, concerns and suggestions. These are also based on: a) visits to related off-island sites in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah; b) interviews with workers both in the UAE and in their home countries; c) discussions with informed local sources and; d) previous visits by members of Gulf Labor. Our recommendations for TDIC Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim Foundation herein, are made with the sincere intention of cooperating with these institutions on their implementation.
Saadiyat Report 2014 (PDF)
Gulf Labor, a group of international artists campaigning for the protection of migrant labourers working on academic and cultural institutions in Abu Dhabi, said such payments “would help relieve workers of the immediate burden of debt . . . which underpins their extreme vulnerability”. Continue reading Gulf Labor calls on Abu Dhabi to pay off museum workers’ debts
Photocopies and tape, 66.7 x 53.7 cm
Dear Nancy, Dear Richard,
As you know, I am one of those who signed the petition for the boycott of the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi, to put pressure on the museum to do everything it can in order to remedy the labor exploitation on Saadiyat Island, to treat the workers as they deserve to be treated, and to protect their rights as workers. I am happy and willing to do everything I can do in order to achieve this; that’s why I signed the petition for a boycott.
Nevertheless, there is a dilemma. The dilemma – my dilemma – is not about exhibiting, here and now, my work “Cavemanman” in the Guggenheim Bilbao, while at the same time boycotting the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi. That is not my dilemma, and the dilemma is not about some other contradiction observers might point out either.
The dilemma, my dilemma, the real dilemma, is the contradiction between the politics of “good intentions”, “the good conscience”, “the engagement of the artist” – that I should in fact call “pseudo-politics” or “making politics”, for it implies narcissism and selfishness, but which I signed the letter for – and my belief and conviction that Art, as Art, has to keep completely out of any daily political cause in order to maintain its power, its artistic power, its real political power.
By signing the petition for this boycott, I am facing this dilemma, my dilemma. It’s a problem without a solution; it’s a dead-end. On the one side, I really want to do what I can, what I think is in my power, to fight for equality, universality, and justice. But I also know that it is easy to add my signature to this fancy artists’ boycott. Too easy, because I know that when signing a boycott, I have to pay the price for the boycott – myself first – so that the outcome can be a real success.
Art – because it’s art – resists a simplified idealism and a simplified realism, because it refuses aesthetic and political idealism and aesthetic and political realism. And Art -because it’s Art -is never neutral, but Art cannot be neutralized by doing politics. I want to admit that this is the “dead-end” I am in. I have to face it. I have to confront this dilemma and furthermore – as an artist – I even have to assert it as my dilemma.
My hope is that something that makes sense remains.
– My signature for the boycott will make sense if it does change the conditions of the workers for Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.
– My signature for the boycott will make sense if the dilemma, the trap, and the temptation of politics allows me to confront the hard core of reality, which is the limit of such a boycott.
– And my signature for the boycott of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will make sense if I have to pay a price for it.
Thomas Hirschhorn, April, 2011
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:
For additional information, please email:
On May 19th, 2013 thousands of workers began a strike at Arabtec, the contractor in charge of the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The strike spread across several worksites in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, including at the Saadiyat Island Construction Village. Continue reading Arabtec workers strike, 460+ deported, police action