Gulf Labor Adds Its Voice to the Protests Against Frieze New York

As the weekend arrived, by most accounts business was gathering steam at the second-annual Frieze New York art fair. So, however, was the simmering controversy over the fair’s use of non-union construction labor. This morning, the group Gulf Labor added its voice to those condemning fair organizers, publishing a statement of solidarity with the unions and other groups who have been protesting the event.

Gulf Labor was formed to call attention to the poor conditions for workers in the construction of the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim and other cultural institutions in the United Arab Emirates’s massive Saadiyat Island cultural development. In the past, the group has threatened to boycott the new Guggenheim if it can’t guarantee worker’s rights and agitated for independent monitoring of labor conditions on Saadiyat Island. Its statement on Frieze New York explicitly draws parallels between the struggle for worker’s rights around the world.

The full statement, below:

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.

A sometimes invisible but palpable line conjoins a Foxconn factory worker in China, a garment worker in Bangladesh, a miner in South Africa, a construction worker in the United Arab Emirates, a Frieze art fair builder in New York, and even the artists who have worked on this statement.

We have chosen to highlight the conditions of work in Saadiyat Island because we see an opportunity to convince institutions, such as the Guggenheim Museum, to live up to their visionary words. Moreover, we hope to bring these issues to the forefront and build solidarity elsewhere, to demand fair labor practices not only in the UAE, but globally; not only in the visual arts, but in all spheres of work.

For this reason, we share the concerns raised by the Arts & Labor group, labor unions and organizations, as well as local city council members around labor practices at Frieze Art Fair in New York. Gulf Labor supports calls to Frieze, their various sponsors including Deutsche Bank and BMW, and all affiliated parties, to meet the basic standards for living wages and protection of workers from injuries.

Organizing Committee of Gulf Labor

Gulf Labor’s letter follows several other solidarity actions that have dogged the fair. L.A. artist Andrea Bowers prominently hung letters stating her opposition to Frieze’s labor policy, and yesterday Suzanne Lacy and Nato Thompson yielded a part of their Frieze Talk to an activist from the group Arts & Labor to speak about the issues.

—Ben Davis