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Creative Time Reports: Who’s Happy About the “Island of Happiness?” It’s Not the Construction Workers

In this episode of Forms of Life, Creative Time’s chief curator, Nato Thompson, speaks with artist Naeem Mohaiemen, NYU professor of social and cultural analysis Andrew Ross and Laura Diamond Dixit of the group Who Builds Your Architecture? about the harsh conditions faced by workers building branches of the Guggenheim, the Louvre and NYU in Abu Dhabi.

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Week 42 . Gulf Labor West

Gulf Labor West Mobi (1)
QR code design by Doris Bittar, 2014

This week’s contribution to Gulf Labor’s 52 Weeks is by Gulf Labor West

Gulf Labor West launches its new website. We draw a direct line from the Arabian/Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Mexico – two pools of migrant laborers whose rights, safety and dignity we seek.

Scan your phone over the QR code and read more about us.


Gulf Labor is a coalition of artists and activists who have been working since 2011 to highlight the coercive recruitment, and deplorable living and working conditions of migrant laborers in Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island (Island of Happiness). Our campaign focuses on the workers who are building the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi, and the Sheikh Zayed National Museum (in collaboration with the British Museum).

“52 Weeks” is a one year campaign starting in October 2013. Artists, writers, and activists from different cities and countries are invited to contribute a work, a text, or action each week that relates to or highlights the unjust living and working conditions of migrant laborers building cultural institutions in Abu Dhabi.


“The Abduction of Freedom-In-Equality, 2014,” contribution from Todd Ayoung and Jelena Stojanovic

The abduction of Liberte’, Egalite’, Fraternite’, 2014

This contribution to Gulf Labor is by TODD AYOUNG AND JELENA STOJANOVIĆ 
Click here to see the full-size image
The Louvre (FIRST public museum of Art) was opened during the French revolution as a token of a democratic change….With the Louvre Abu Dubai construction, the museum is currently advocating the continuing exploitation of migrant workers in the name of global capitalist culture.

Gulf Labor Urges Proactive Measures for Migrant Workers Rights on Saadiyat Island

Press Release/Response to TDIC

May 17, 2014

On May 7th, TDIC issued a reply to Gulf Labor’s report on our visit (undertaken at TDIC’s invitation) to UAE migrant labor camps. Our report offers extensive coverage of the challenges facing migrant workers in the kafala (sponsorship) system.

We were dismayed by TDIC’s indifferent response to our diligent efforts.

Among the several recommendations made in our report, TDIC mentions only one–the proposal of relocation fees for indebted workers–and in abruptly dismissive terms. In our exchanges with them, as well as in their response to our report, TDIC representatives have repeatedly extended an “open invitation” to collaborators “in finding a … solution to the pressing issue of workers’ recruitment fees.” In that light, their cursory rejection of Gulf Labor seems to be an expression of bad faith, and it recycles familiar arguments that are only meant to place responsibility elsewhere than with TDIC, the Guggenheim, and the UAE. We stand by our proposal, and urge TDIC to offer a purposeful, research-based assessment of its viability.

More notably, TDIC ignored all of our other recommendations. These include:

  1. The adoption of a Saadiyat Island living wage;
  2. The formation of workers councils;
  3. The reporting of contractors’ recruitment practices;
  4. The establishment of recruitment agencies in countries of origin;
  5. The amendment of PwC’s monitoring methods;
  6. And the invitation to the ILO to participate in the process of implementation.

These recommendations have been received by human rights organizations as promising additions to the inventory of solutions currently favored by migrant labor advocates. We call on TDIC to take them seriously, and look forward to a substantive response (and not another press release) that illustrates a genuine commitment on TDIC’s part to bettering the conditions and lives of migrant workers in the UAE.

As part of our report, we promised to forward a list of organizations in source countries that could participate in joint research on remedies for relieving migrant workers of their heavy debt burdens.

These include the following:

a) India:

b) Pakistan:

c) Nepal:

d) Bangladesh:

e) United Kingdom:

We urge TDIC to move forward with this common research program by establishing contacts with them, and with other relevant units. Qatar’s recently announced abolition of its kafala system is an illustration of the solid progress that can be made when state authorities work together with international labor advocates.

As before, Gulf Labor is ready to cooperate with the Guggenheim, TDIC, and NYUAD on further researching and implementing our recommendations.


Gulf Labor Coalition

Gulf Labor statement on Frieze New York

It has been Gulf Labor‘s position since its inception that the disregard of worker rights is a global phenomenon which requires resistance wherever it emerges, and wherever one is able to act. We have stated that this disregard for the safety, social conditions, and rights of workers is a problem not unique to Saadiyat Island in the United Arab Emirates. Continue reading Gulf Labor statement on Frieze New York