Gulf Labor Addresses Guggenheim’s Silence

October 4, 2016

To Signatories of the Gulf Labor Campaign

Subject: Gulf Labor Addresses Guggenheim’s Silence

Dear friends,

We, the organizing committee of Gulf Labor, are writing to you with an update on our work.

Since 2010, we have advocated for labor rights guidelines for ethical museum construction and maintenance in the Gulf region. Our campaign focused on Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, but we have also been critical of the absence of labor rights at the already constructed NYU Abu Dhabi, the currently ongoing construction of Louvre Abu Dhabi, and other cultural institutions in the region. We have always understood this struggle to have global implications. The rights and fair wages we have advocated apply to precarious migrant workers, as much as to non-unionized citizen workers, who are building and maintaining global institutions that support and exhibit our work. Our hope is that labor rights won for workers in the Gulf would be an inspiration for institutions elsewhere.

In spite of several positive developments generated by our campaign – changes in employment regulations (EPP) on Saadiyat Island, periodic reports by Gulf Labor, official monitoring reports by PricewaterhouseCoopers, greater public awareness around migrant labor issues, affinity groups working on campaigns elsewhere – the Guggenheim leadership abruptly broke off meetings with Gulf Labor in April 2016. In response to this, Gulf Labor, the NGO coalition we had assembled, and a group of artists in Guggenheim’s “Storm is Blowing” show all joined in urging the Museum to return to the negotiating table with Gulf Labor and/or the NGO coalition.

We waited four months for a positive response from the Guggenheim or TDIC (Abu Dhabi’s Tourism, Development & Investment Company), but there was none. In the meantime, media reports show that the Finnish government has declined to fund the Guggenheim Helsinki, and that we are in the midst of a slowdown in spending on cultural activities in the Gulf. Key members of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi team left the project in fall 2016, following earlier departures of senior Guggenheim staff involved with the project in 2015.

Although there were constructive meetings, and positive developments in the years 2014-2015, since 2016 the director and board of trustees of Guggenheim has no longer been willing to work with Gulf Labor toward a solution for workers rights. We believe a substantive path toward meeting our concerns is to engage directly with the NGO coalition we assembled, which has the experience needed to implement fair working standards under many different national legal structures and conditions. As the Guggenheim has now abandoned a path of constructive dialogue, we will continue to advocate for workers rights through other means, including the media.

As we remain focused on advocating through our alliances and partners for workers rights in the Middle East, we are also committed to struggling for these rights in Asia, Latin and South America, Africa, North America, and Europe. Our alliances include Workers Art Coalition, Occupy Museums, Fair Labor Coalition, G.U.L.F. (Global Ultra Luxury Faction), Taxi Worker’s Alliance, S.a.L.E. Docks, Who Builds Your Architecture, Aaron Burr Society, as well as the NGO coalition of Human Rights Watch, International Trade Union Confederation, Engineers Against Poverty, Building and Woodworkers International, and Society for Labour and Development.

Gulf Labor’s boycott of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi shall continue; Gulf Labor reiterates that human rights and fair labor standards must be a starting point and ongoing concern for any museum being built anywhere in the world. We urge all signatories to maintain their critique of Guggenheim, Louvre, NYU, and any other institution that does not respect workers’ rights. Please continue this struggle together with us, as it moves forward. Another art world is possible.


On behalf of the Organizing Committee of Gulf Labor Coalition: Amin Husain, Andrew Ross, Ashok Sukumaran, Ayreen Anastas, Doris Bittar, Gregory Sholette, Guy Mannes-Abbott, Haig Aivazian, Hans Haacke, Kristina Bogos, Mariam Ghani, Michael Rakowitz, Naeem Mohaiemen, Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Nitasha Dhillon, Noah Fischer, Paula Chakravartty, Rene Gabri, Sam Durant, Shaina Anand, Tania Bruguera, Todd Ayoung, Walid Raad.

1) Detailed chronology of events since 2010.
2) Gulf Labor’s demand for four crucial elements for a workers rights platform. (2013)
3) Gulf Labor Publication: The Gulf: High Culture/Hard Labor. (2015)
4) Gulf Labor report on current labor conditions. (2015)
5) Appeals to Guggenheim by Gulf Labor, artists in “Storm is Blowing” show, and artists in “Hello Guggenheim” (2016)
6) Gulf Labor’s analysis of PwC’s monitoring report on labor conditions. (2016)
7) Guggenheim’s reply to NGO coalition; British Museum’s reply to HRW. (2016)
8) NYU report on Recruitment Fees: a multitude of middlemen (2016)

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