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Thu 17 Mar 2011 10:11 AM

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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

Artists vow boycott of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi
More than 130 artists, including prominent names in the Arab art world, have pledged to boycott the $800m Guggenheim museum
Artists vow boycott of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi
More than 130 artists, including prominent names in the Arab art world, have pledged to boycott the $800m Guggenheim museum
Artists vow boycott of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi
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.

Brian Dexter 8 years ago

Cultural spaces should not be hijacked for settling political scores. It is a sign of lack of self-discipline.

RBH 8 years ago

Did you see why Adolf Hitler said, "first, kill all the artists?"

Artists stand for all what is purely good to this world. They will stand in the face of all forms of injustice to acheive good.

They are Plato's "philosopher kings" of the contemporary world.

Kat 8 years ago

If these artists want legitimacy in according human rights, then perhaps they should do their research - they should also boycott travel to India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, et al - the countries who citizens enforce these astronomical fees on their own countrymen - their own goverments allow this practice to go unchecked. Or perhaps they should boycott the contractors that don't pay the wages - stop grand standing and look at the real cause of these problems. HWI has its own agenda and often obfuscates to get theirs across - these purported advocates and NGOs need to claw back some legitimacy and focus on the places where workers are being abused - like the Northern Emirates, Saudi, etc. Hopefully these artists who won't be exhibiting will leave space for new artists to showcase their works - besides, I would rather look at borrowed pieces from the great collections of the world.

king 8 years ago

Kat, what are you talking about, the artists are talking about ill treatment of labourers in this part of the world. Don't forget this ill treatment is not from the respective govt. it is from the so-called developed world (i presume u r also one of them).

Go and check the labour camps, facilities given to these labour. This is by your own brothers & sisters. If you are so cultured and humane, why can't be a model and show how to treat the labours.

We all know what all these western comapnies also doing and pocketing the hard earned money for their countrymen (unbelievable descriminating salaries and perks).

jonno davenport 8 years ago

@ Kat , you're bang on the money , when the countryman helps his fellow countryman then we can all chip in and help . The awful truth is that the Labourers that work on these projects are ususally misled and abused by their own kind . They need to face this problem before anyone can move forward.

John Smith 8 years ago

Dear Brian Dexter

At least the Artists said what the rest of us who work or worked in the UAE in the real estate development and construction business know, and that is that the Laborers are seriously taken advantage of in the UAE. In the UK or the USA the Developers and the Contractors would, after similar number of years of abuse, being taken to task for such treatment.

JS 8 years ago

Not true, artists always had an impact on the politics of a country. Art is not only there to be beautiful, but to emphasize and illustrate injustice, just think of "Guernica" by Picasso. Art is highly political, it will form and change a society. Art is what lacks in the UAE (and I am not talking about Swarovski covered falcons). Because art is so powerful, totalitarian regimes like Hitler's Germany or Stalin's USSR always wanted to control it.
I am confident that once art has its rightful place in the UAE, it will shape its youth and transform the way the people of this great country will look at the world. The UAE has everything it needs to become a great nation, what is missing right now, is art.

John 8 years ago

From what I understand, the majority of Asian construction workers pay an agents fee, in the form of an advanced loan, to come to work in the Middle East, whether Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi.

If they don't pay it back, their families are often threatened with violence.

It is wrong, but extremely common

..... and King, those countries are not considered 'Western'.

Islam 8 years ago

The artist are making a symbolic gesture for those who have no voice. I applaud the effort and hope they keep to their commitments.I would advise all to understand the plight of the workers and the stand of the human rights group and artist. It is not a political scenario rather a humanitarian one.Agreed there is more that needs to be done in other locations in this region but at least there should be a beginning.

david Robertson 8 years ago

Kat, you need to read and research few thing before you make comments, I am really sorry but you are too far removed from ground reality as King mentioned.