Gulf Labor statement on Boycott and UAE Travel Restrictions

Gulf Labor statement on the Boycott and UAE Travel Restrictions

March 9, 2017

We would like to offer the following statement, as many of our friends, colleagues, fellow signatories, as well as allies within institutions in the region and around the world gather once more in the Gulf this spring.

Since 2011 the Gulf Labor Coalition (GLC) — whose campaign includes more than 2000 signatories— has maintained that until the well-documented conditions of worker exploitation and abuse on Saadiyat Island are remedied, we will not participate in the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi project.

In the past year, questions have been raised about the museum’s future, as tenders for the construction of its building did not go out as announced. Acquisitions for the museum have continued, and recently the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi announced a second on-site show from its collection, The Creative Act: Performance, Process, Presence, which opened on Saadiyat Island this week.

We wish to reiterate with this statement that the call to boycott is in place, and our collective advocacy campaign will continue. GLC, and the NGO coalition we have assembled, remain open to dialogue with the museum, TDIC, and anyone else with an interest in workers’ rights in the region, despite the museum leadership’s decision, last spring, to walk away from talks.

Meanwhile, we have the troubling news that artists, writers and academics associated with GLC have been unable to travel to the UAE. Three members who were barred from entry or deported in 2015, are now joined by two others, one of whom also claims to have been subjected to state-sponsored surveillance. There are now five of us who are unable to enter the country, despite vocal protest from the international art and museum community.

GLC protests the travel bans on those with long engagements with the region, and which prevents advocacy for basic rights on behalf of some of the most vulnerable workers from the region. This is the same region to which the UAE is historically connected, and which its cultural institutions desire to reflect upon and represent.

Today there is a global upsurge of anti-Muslim, anti-migrant politics and a hardening of borders, be it in the US, across continental Europe, or elsewhere. The response of artists, academics, and cultural institutions around the world has been to express profound concern and outrage at this narrowing of a global intelligence and interdependence. These questions are deeply and inherently connected to our work, and our expressions.

It has been Gulf Labor’s position that free thought and expression is meaningless if it cannot be exercised toward constructively changing the politics of the institutions we inhabit or do work in. Today it is unavoidable that it become part of what we do as a community. Recently, the city of Helsinki rejected a proposal to install a Guggenheim museum on its shore. Artists, architects and intellectuals were involved with proposing a number of alternatives to this model of cultural development.

On Saadiyat, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is expected to open later this year, the NYU campus continues its operations, and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi has just installed its newest acquisitions on the Island. Meanwhile we have yet to see a long term change in the situation of thousands of laborers there– including wages, recruitment debts, and their ability to represent themselves. Monuments, memorials, and museums built by underpaid workers can no longer be celebrated as hallmarks of culture. The UAE, and especially its cultural institutions, should lead by a different example. GLC remains committed to working with institutions in the UAE and the world to imagine and build a different model of cultural institution.

Gulf Labor Coalition, March 9, 2017

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