Artists in Guggenheim Show Denounce Museum’s Split With Gulf Labor

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An exhibition of newly acquired works from or relating to the Middle East and North Africa, titled “But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise,” opens today at the Guggenheim in New York, and 10 of the 17 participating artists have issued a statement condemning the museum’s recent decision to end talks with the activist group Gulf Labor Coalition.

Gulf Labor had been in conversations with the Guggenheim for six years regarding labor conditions at their planned Abu Dhabi outpost before the institution “unilaterally brok[e] off negotiations” with them earlier this month, according to an email circulated by Gulf Labor. Several artists in the new Guggenheim show also happen to be members of the Gulf Labor Coalition, and some appended riders to their acquisition contracts prohibiting the museum from displaying their work at, or in connection with, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi without their prior permission, a source close to those negotiations told ARTINFO.

“As artists connected in various ways to this region, we believe in new institutions as cultural forces; we support their creation but also believe they can be catalysts for greater social change,” the ten dissenting artists from “But a Storm” said in today’s statement. The full text of that letter is reproduced below. Guggenheim spokesperson Tina Vaz reiterated the institution’s “commitment to safeguarding conditions for workers who will build the future museum” in an email to ARTINFO.

“We and the artists in question differ only in our views as to whether Gulf Labor is a productive partner for the Guggenheim in this endeavor,” Vaz added, citing “six years of good-faith engagement to seek common ground with Gulf Labor, during which we have been unfairly singled out for repeated attacks.” For its own part, Gulf Labor has disputed this characterization in a lengthy statement published on April 18.

Artists respond to the Guggenheim-Gulf Labor split

The artists listed below have work included in the Guggenheim Museum’s collection and in the UBS MAP exhibition: But a Storm is Blowing from Paradise: Contemporary Art of the Middle East and North Africa. We express our disappointment over the Guggenheim Museum and Foundation’s recent decision to end dialogue with the Gulf Labor Coalition, concerning labor practices in the construction of their Abu Dhabi Museum. As artists connected in various ways to this region, we believe in new institutions as cultural forces; we support their creation but also believe they can be catalysts for greater social change. We hope that the Guggenheim remains committed to innovation on both a representational as well as a structural level. Furthermore, we believe that dialogue is the most productive way forward for all parties involved. This exhibition is one form of dialogue and we regret that it opens amidst the current development in the exchange between the museum and GLC. We urge the museum to reconsider and reverse its decision to terminate its dialogue with GLC and affiliated NGOs.

List of names:

Abbas Akhavan
Kader Attia
Ali Cherri
Mariam Ghani
Joana Hadjithomas
Iman Issa
Khalil Joreige
Hassan Khan
Ahmad Mater
Zineb Sedira

Note: Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige are collaborators, so they collectively constitute one of the 16 discrete artistic participants in the exhibition, but they both signed the statement separately.

Update, 4/29 5:19pm: The body of this article has been revised to include comment from the Guggenheim.

Mostafa Heddaya (@mheddaya)

(Photo: Ali Cherri, “Trembling Landscapes—Beirut (Paysages Tremblants—Beirut),” 2014 Lithograph and archival ink stamp, four parts, 70 x 100 cm each, edition 4/7. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Guggenheim UBS MAP Purchase Fund 2016.5.2 © Ali Cherri.)