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Here is the Press Release for the Venice Action.
May 8, 2015, Venice. At the opening of the Venice Biennale, a premier art exposition run on underpaid and free local labor, members of G.U.L.F. (Global Ultra Luxury Faction) and Gulf Labor Coalition declare their solidarity with migrant workers in the U.A.E. by occupying the Venice Guggenheim museum. The Gulf Labor Coalition, an international group of artists and writers, and an official participant in this year’s Biennale, has been pressuring the museum for five years to ensure fair labor standards for the workers constructing its new Saadiyat Island branch in Abu Dhabi. Neither the museum nor its Emirati partner has responded with any adequate program of protections. After five years of inaction, G.U.L.F. decided to follow last week’s occupation of the Guggenheim New York by targeting the Venice museum.
S.a.L.E.-Docks, the Venice arts collective, is also participating in the occupation. The joint action will draw attention to the exploitative use of unpaid workers to staff the expositions in Venice, Milan, and beyond.
A series of field investigations has established a systematic pattern of human rights abuse among migrant workers in the Emirates. While Abu Dhabi has the roaring wealth to purchase the names of high-profile cultural institutions like the Guggenheim, Louvre, British Museum, and New York University, it will not afford dignity and fair wages to the migrants who make up 90% of its population. Compliance monitoring programs put in place by NYU were not adequately enforced, and hundreds of workers who stood up for their rights were beaten and deported.
The Gulf Labor Coalition has asked for the Guggenheim to:
1) pay a living wage to its museum workforce;
2) reimburse workers for their crushing recruitment debts;
3) respect their right to self-organize.
The Foundation has responded that meeting these demands lies “outside the Guggenheim’s range of authority,” because “they are matters of federal law.” According to Andrew Ross, a New York University labor expert and Gulf Labor Coalition member, “nothing in UAE labor law prevents an employer from compensating workers for recruitment fees. In fact, the employment practices policy on Saadiyat Island specifically instructs them to do so.”More than two thousand artists around the world have signed on to the Gulf Labor’s boycott of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi over the lack of fair labor provisions. G.U.L.F. intends to target the museum until the Foundation takes the demands seriously, and agrees to a meeting between trustees and its own representatives. “We are stepping up the pressure,” explains Amin Husain, artists and G.U.L.F. organizer. “Rather than passing the buck on to Abu Dhabi authorities who have shown scant concern for migrants’ rights, the Foundation should face up to its responsibilities and clean the stain from the Guggenheim’s name.”
The final phase of construction on the museum’s UAE branch will commence later this year on Saadiyat Island, a showpiece real estate venture off the coast of Abu Dhabi. “No artist should be asked to exhibit work in a museum built on the backs of abused workers,” observed Nitasha Dhillon, artist and G.U.L.F. member. “And the Guggenheim Foundation can ensure this will never happen by doing the right thing by workers now, before construction begins.”According to Marco Baravalle, member of the S.a.L.E.-Docks arts collective, “the Venice Biennale, like so much of the artworld, is the product of free, or cheap, labor. The more prestigious an art event is, the more likely that people are asked to work for nothing.”
Members of G.U.L.F. , the Gulf Labor Coalition, and S.a.L.E.-Docks are available for interview.