Artists vow boycott of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

Group of 130 artists refuses to exhibit or sell works to the museum unless alleged worker abuses are stopped

More than 130 artists, including prominent names in the Arab art world, have pledged to boycott the $800m Guggenheim museum

More than 130 artists, including prominent names in the Arab art world, have pledged to boycott the $800m Guggenheim museum

More than 130 artists, including prominent names in the Arab art world, have pledged to boycott the $800m Guggenheim museum being built in Abu Dhabi unless the welfare of foreign labourers working on the site improves.

The Frank Gehry-designed museum is at the heart of Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island development, currently home to more than 10,000 labourers.

The island is also the future home of a $500m branch of the Louvre and to Zayed National Museum, designed by famed architect Norman Foster.

In a statement released by Human Rights Watch, the artists’ group said it is responding to reports of worker abuses including unlawful recruiting fees and broken promises of wages.

The group, which includes Kuwait-born artist Hamra Abbas, Syria’s Khaled Barakeh and Turner Prize-shortlisted Irish artist Willie Doherty, said it would not sell works to the museum or participate in events until an independent monitor is appointment to oversee worker conditions.

Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development and Investment Company, the state-backed agency that oversees Saadiyat’s development, was not immediately available to comment.

New York-based HRW said in a 2009 report that featured interviews with 94 labourers, that each said he had paid between $1,800 and $4,100 in recruitment fees prior to securing his job.

The practice is outlawed in the UAE, as it places workers in significant debt before they begin work that can take years to repay.

Last year, 14 workers on the island went on strike after claiming they had not been paid for five months by a subcontractor.

Abu Dhabi’s TDIC earlier this month unveiled a newly-built construction village to house the workforce on Saadiyat Island.

The agency said it would appoint an independent monitoring firm to oversee workers by May.

Join the Discussion

Disclaimer:The view expressed here by our readers are not necessarily shared by Arabian Business, its employees, sponsors or its advertisers.

NOTE: Comments posted on may be printed in the magazine Arabian Business

Please post responsibly. Commenter Rules

Posted by: K.H.Upadhyaya

I would like to share some of my thoughts on the subject. The root cause of the financial problems expat laborers have, goes back to unscrupulous Agents in their Home countries and unethical staff of Companies in the Host country who join hands with the Agents. The end result is heavy illegal Agent fee by Agent and manipulation of contract terms (salaries) after arrival in the Host country by the Companies. So, it is the Host Country and the Companies who have the moral responsibility of correcting the situation. Regarding non-payment of salaries and no decent living conditions, again the responsibility rests on the Companies or the Contractors. UAE has now Wage Protection Plan and has stipulated specific standards for labor camps. The critical role that UAE Govt. can play is effective and unbiased implementation of these rules. As for these prominent artists, they have a wonderful opportunity to translate this complex scenario artistically and present it to the museum.

Posted by: Uncle T

As someone who is actively involved in the construction market, I can attest that the pre-qualification requirements set forth by TDIC are like nothing else that I have seen on a construction project. And this isn't only lip service, the project manager, AECOM, actually takes hours and hours to investigate both labour facilities as well as other contracting sites by the bidding companies. Those who do not meet health, safety and environmental standards do not have the opportunity to bid on the project. Furthermore, developers in this country like Aldar and TDIC are building some world class labour facilities for other companies to utilize. Guys, remember Abu Dhabi is NOT Dubai, and people that believe they are the same are ignorant. This is also 5 years after the Dubai construction boom/disaster, much has changed. A boycott does more harm than good in actuality.

Posted by: Millicent

I understand none of these comments as in UAE when employing workers you have regulations to follow and the government makes sure you follow these regulations. When needing a visa for a worker you cannot just put any stupid salary, there is a minimum, and after one year work they have 30 days paied vacation and any year thereafter 1 day per month and after the visa period you have to pay the gratuity, vacation, flight etc. I think most of you do not really know what is going on and relating old stories and loving to say the Government doesn't do anything!instead of blaming employers not abiding to law! Just get your records straight. I own a Company in a free zone with many workers all that nonsense is just not possible because we have government control. All the workers want to come and work in UAE and happy to be here, at the end of their contract seldom want to go back and are desperate to find a new job!!!! This is todays reality. Just go to Europe, compare, and then complain

Posted by: evans

To set records straight, the so-called abuse of labour is much smaller in scale than it is pictured by Western media. The various goverment agencies in U.A.E does a lot to improve the system. This includes, the Wage Proctection System, which mandates that all companies must compensate the employee through banks or fianacial institutions. In addtion, there are strigent safety,health standards are set and implement at work and living locations.
Yes, the abuses are stil there, but State seems to be trying earnestly to solve the issues, it is a work in progress.
There is nothing here U.A.E which warrants a boycott by artists.It seems the boycotters have hidden agendas or are naive , wide eyed folks ,with little knowldeg of realities here and are manipulated by vested interests (Most probably by Zionist interest groups) . The Zionist groups have a definite interest in preserving the popuplar stereotype of Arab states as backward, conservative, anti Western and mediveal .

Posted by: Jimmy Blue

The benefit of the artists being artists is that they base their response on facts and are 'free' to choose whether or not to boycott or not. If the companies and local government are earnest about change then change, decisions and enforcement can be made overnight they just need to be earnest enough, obviously they aren't. TDIC have no comment because they probably don't know what is going on. What I would like to know is whether they were involved in the process from the belief is they don't have a clue.

Posted by: PN Menon

Well, I dont care much about Zionist agenda. But I think evan is making a valid point there- There are a vested interests that benefit a lot from projecting the 'less than ideal ground realities' -out of proportion. HRW relies a lot on information which could be prejudiced towards or against the state and nation.
Israel does indeed gain by projecting the Arabs as medieval and primitive- because that gives it the excuse to perpeterate atrocities upon a defenceless population.
Now it will be interesting to see how the sole democracy in the region will view its neighbours

Posted by: Kamel

Evans, your comment sounded intelligent until you added the zionist rubbish at the end.
Shot yourself in the foot there fella.

Posted by: Lex

May God bless for those 130 artists who are standing up to the exploitation of foreign workers. In a country that money buys practically everything & silences every injustice that takes place here. Even for those who do not beleive that such slavery does exist here ... may everything that goes around comes around.

Imagine if the expat workers do not labour in this country ... how will the lazy locals live ... without maids, servants etc. Has any of the locals ever done manual labour in their life ... they are paid by their govt whether they come to work or not ... in contrast imagine a typical average labourer working longer hours, payment delays by 4-5 months, salaries in the range of AED.400-500 per month, unhygenic living camp conditions, their voices supressed, most of them commit suicide when they don't get paid.

So "THANK YOU" dear artists for standing up for doing what is right. May justice prevail to those brave workers who should be blessed for their contribution.

Posted by: marijke

Lex, are you going to feed the mouths that the salaries of the labour, maids etc feed back in their home countries? This country feeds a lot of people in their home countries, If you have been following some developments in this country, you would know that there are laws in place that dictate what a labour camp should look like and they are being inspected. Plus, if I have a maid, whom I feed, clothe, provide shelter I am not obliged to pay a high salary. I do not deny the issues here, but people like you just take it to the next level. It's not your business what a local does or doesn't do, you are getting paid for doing your job right?

UAE has many issues, one of the problems certain nationalities that can 't control themselves let alone their teenage kids who get drunk, use every day home products as drugs, and then asking the government to ban these products rather than raising their own kids.

All comments are subject to approval before appearing

Further reading

Features & Analysis
The Al Thanis are Qatar's power family

The Al Thanis are Qatar's power family

New research sheds light on the overwhelming influence of the...

Raising the bar: DLA Piper plans fresh growth in the Gulf

Raising the bar: DLA Piper plans fresh growth in the Gulf

Legal firm DLA Piper’s Middle East business recorded 10 percent...

With monster trucks and Comic-Con, Saudis defy killjoy image

With monster trucks and Comic-Con, Saudis defy killjoy image

Clerics and many citizens still consider it all very sinful,...

Most Discussed