An array of art-world leaders have called upon institutions in the United Arab Emirates to work with government authorities to lift the recent travel bans placed on artists and academics who have been barred for unspecified “security” concerns.
The letter, signed by 60 curators, critics, and museum directors, comes in response to the recent barring of artists Ashok Sukumaran and Walid Raad, and New York University professor Andrew Ross, from the country. The three are among the more outspoken members of labor activist coalition Gulf Labor, who are working to improve the harsh labor conditions on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, the future site of the Guggenheim and Louvre outposts.
The signatories, including Glenn Lowry, Anne Pasternak, and Kate Fowle, declare: “These conditions of the creation of a cultural world should be of concern to us all, and the proposals of artists in this regard should be seen as a matter of debate, not of ‘security.’”
They argue that the artists and academics have a right to free passage to the UAE to enrich the cultural dialogue there — especially as those banned have a long history of working in the region. Sukumaran has contributed to a three Sharjah Biennials (2009, 2011, 2013) and Art Dubai; Raad has also exhibited in the Sharjah Biennial, and his own work is held in the permanent collection of the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
The bans mark a “chilling precedent,” the signatories say.
This letter follows a flurry of other calls opposing the bans, including from the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art (CIMAM) and artists participating in the Sharjah Biennial. But of all the appeals to solidarity in the past month, this is perhaps the strongest direct call to Western and UAE institutions.
As the news broke, however, both the Sharjah Art Foundation and the Guggenheim assigned blame to the United Arab Emirates. The Guggenheim told ARTINFO: “[A]uthority over immigration and visa policy rests fully with the UAE government.”
Read the full text of the letter, below.
— Noelle Bodick (@nbodick)
To:Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, Abu Dhabi, UAETourism Development & Investment Company, Abu Dhabi, UAEThe Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, New York, NY, USANew York University, New York, USANew York University Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, UAEAgence France-Muséums, Paris, FranceMusée du Louvre, Paris, FranceSharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAEArt Dubai, Dubai, UAE…Recently, artists Ashok Sukumaran and Walid Raad were denied entry to the UAE on grounds of “security”. This comes after NYU professor Andrew Ross was similarly barred from flying to Abu Dhabi in March. Sukumaran and Raad have a long history of vital and sustained engagement with the UAE, often on the invitation of your institutions. Ross is a professor of standing in New York’s academic community. It appears that the reason these three members of our global arts and academic community were denied entry to the UAE is their involvement with the Gulf Labour Coalition.…
As you know, Gulf Labour is an artist-initiated group that has been active since 2010, asking museums and institutions being built on Saadiyat Island to create better conditions for their workers. These conditions of the creation of a cultural world should be of concern to us all, and the proposals of artists in this regard should be seen as a matter of debate, not of “security”. We assert that artists and academics should be allowed free passage to conduct research and work that is done in a peaceful and productive manner.
We the undersigned oppose the barring of Ashok Sukumaran, Walid Raad and Andrew Ross from the UAE. We state that denying artists visas, stopping and deporting them after years of their work in the region, creates a chilling precedent and makes it difficult for arts and academic institutions in the UAE, and those working with the UAE to claim regional dialogue and artistic freedom. We urge your institutions to work with the concerned authorities to lift these bars on their travel.…Sincerely,…Achim Borchardt-Hume, Director of Exhibitions, Tate Modern, LondonAndrea Lissoni, Senior Curator International Art (Film), Tate Modern, LondonAndrea Thal, Artistic Director, Contemporary Image Collective, CairoAnne Pasternak, President and Artistic Director, Creative Time, New YorkAnselm Franke, Head of Visual Art and Film, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, BerlinAnton Vidokle, Founder, e-flux, New YorkBartomeu Marí, Director MACBA, BarcelonaCarin Kuoni, Director, Vera List Center for Art and Politics, The New School, New YorkCharles Esche, Director, Van Abbemuseum, EindhovenCharles Guarino, Publisher, Artforum Magazine, New YorkChristine Van Assche, Chief Curator-at-Large, Centre Pompidou, ParisClaire Hsu, Founder-Director, Asia Art Archive, Hong KongDefne Ayas, Director, Witte de With – Center for Contemporary Art, RotterdamDennis Lim, Director of Programming, Film Society of Lincoln Center, New YorkDoryun Chong, Chief Curator, M+ Hong KongEmilie Villez, Director, Kadist Art Foundation, ParisEva Respini, Barbara Lee Chief Curator, Institute of Contemporary Art, BostonFawwaz Traboulsi, Writer and Historian, American University of Beirut, BeirutFranck Gautherot, Co-director Le Consortium, DijonGeeta Kapur, Critic and Curator, New DelhiGlenn Lowry, Director, Museum of Modern Art, New YorkHammad Nasar, Head of Research & Programmes, Asia Art Archive, Hong KongHila Peleg, Curator, Documenta 14, Kassel and AthensIftikhar Dadi, Professor, Department of History of Art, Cornell University, New YorkJeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta, Raqs Media Collective, New DelhiJenelle Porter, Mannion Family Senior Curator, Institute of Contemporary Art, BostonJill Medvedow, Ellen Matilda Poss Director, Institute of Contemporary Art, BostonJitish Kallat, Artist and Curator, 2nd Kochi-Muziris BiennialKate Fowle, Director-at-Large, Independent Curators International, New YorkKathy Halbreich, Deputy Director, Museum of Modern Art, New YorkKoyo Kouoh, Artistic Director, RAW Material Company, DakarLars Nittve, Executive Director, M+ Hong KongLaura Raicovich, Director, Queens Museum, New YorkMaha Maamoun, Board member, Contemporary Image Collective, CairoMai Abu El Dahab, Director, Young Arab Theatre Fund, BrusselsMami Kataoka , Chief Curator, Mori Art Museum, TokyoMaria Lind, Director, Tensta Konsthall, StockholmMarie Muracciole, Curator, Director of Beirut Art Center, Beirut, LebanonMarta Kuzma, Rector, Royal Institute of Art, StockholmNancy Adajania, Cultural theorist and independent curator, MumbaiNatasa Petresin-Bachelez, Independent curator, editor of L’Internationale Online, ParisNato Thompson, Chief Curator, Creative Time, New YorkNegar Azimi, Senior Editor, Bidoun, New YorkNicholas Serota, Director, Tate, LondonPatricia Falguieres, Professeur à l’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, ParisPooja Sood, Director, Khoj International Artists Association, New DelhiRana El Nemr, Board member, Contemporary Image Collective, CairoRanjit Hoskote, Cultural theorist and independent curator, MumbaiSabine Breitwieser, Director, Museum der Moderne SalzburgSebastien Delot, former Modern and Contemporary Art Curator of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Head of the Collection of The Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain Saint EtienneSeungduk Kim, Co-director Le Consortium, DijonSharmini Pereira, Director, Raking Leaves, Sri LankaSheena Wagstaff, Chairman of the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, Metropolitan Museum, New YorkSolange Farkas, Director/Curator, Associação Cultural Videobrasil, Sao PauloSukhdev Sandhu, Film critic and writer, New York University, New YorkSumesh Sharma and Zasha Colah, Clark House Initiative, MumbaiSunjung, Kim, Artistic Director, Asia Culture Information Agency of Asian Culture Complex, GwangjuTasneem Zakaria Mehta, Managing Trustee & Honorary Director, Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum, MumbaiUte Meta Bauer, Founding Director, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art, SingaporeVasıf Kortun, Director of Research & Programs, SALT, Istanbul and AnkaraYasmine Eid-Sabbagh, Vice-President, Arab Image Foundation, Beirut