Protestors Take Over the Guggenheim With Giant Projections

by Whitney Kimball on March 25, 2014 Newswire

Image courtesy of Occupy Museums

Image courtesy of Occupy Museums

Last night, for a full forty minutes, the Guggenheim Museum was covered with projections of “1%”, illustrations of debt spirals, and dollar bills.

The work of Occupy Museums, the OWS Illuminator, and G.U.L.F. (Gulf Ultra Luxury Faction), the projections were intended to draw attention to the museum’s upcoming construction project on Saadiyat Island, or “Happiness” Island. The soon-to-be glamorous destination island off of Abu Dhabi is, according to several reports, currently being developed on the backs of severely abused migrant workers. According to an investigation by the Observer, this can entail slave-like conditions where recruiters lure workers into debt traps, and employers take their passports. One work camp is reportedly located next to sewage treatment plants.

“Abu Dhabi is far away geographically, but not financially,” Occupy Museums’ Noah Fischer told us. “It’s important to make the connections as the infrastructure of the art world- which is turning toward greater economic inequality, goes ever more global”.

Nitasha Dhillon and Amin Hussein, of MTL and G.U.L.F., have also released a joint statement:

This action hopefully delivers a clear message to the Guggenheim that we intend to keep up the pressure until it chooses to stand on the right side of history, on the side of the workers. Our efforts are not intended to be symbolic but to actually lead to material changes on the ground and in the lives of the workers. The migrant workers in Abu Dhabi have made their voices heard with strikes and statements that they want their dignity respected, do not want to be economically exploited, and do not want to be in debt bondage. We stand in solidarity with the workers and amplify their voices. ~ MTL

The action follows last month’s protest, in which the Guggenheim was occupied from within the museum during Saturday evening free admission hours. The museum responded to those protests with the following statement:

February 24, 2014  The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation is engaged in ongoing, serious discussions with our most senior colleagues in Abu Dhabi regarding the issues of workers’ rights. As global citizens, we share the concerns about human rights and fair labor practices and continue to be committed to making progress on these issues. At the same time, it is important to make clear that the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is not yet under construction.

And Guggenheim director Richard Armstrong continues to insist that the Guggenheim is aware of, and working to address, the issue.

Still, so long as we keep see gleaming renderings and art festivals next to footage of labor camps, the optics are not good.

Read the full press release below:

At 10:00 pm last night, members of Gulf Ultra Luxury Faction (G.U.L.F.) joined by the OWS Illuminator occupied the facade of Guggenheim Museum in Uptown Manhattan for over 40 minutes. G.U.L.F. rebranded the Guggenheim’s flagship museum in protest of complicity at the ill-treatment and economic exploitation of migrant workers in Abu Dhabi who are beginning to build the new Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim on  Saadiyat (aka ‘Island of Happiness’. G.U.L.F.’s act of messaging solidarity follows recent reports from Human Rights Watch, as well as investigative findings from members of the Gulf Labor Coalition (some of whom overlap with G.U.L.F.) who have just returned from a fact-finding mission in Abu Dhabi where where they visited several worker camps and spoke with workers. They confirmed a reality that is the opposite of happy: multiple labor violations, generated by a system built on human suffering and debt bondage.

Last night, G.U.L.F. renewed the call on the Guggenheim to own up to its responsibility as a leading cultural, educational and art institution, and not take economic advantage of the workers seeking the ‘Gulf Dream’. Workers should not be caught in a debt spiral where they must work for years on building the museum only to pay the fees that brought them to Abu Dhabi in the first place. Guggenheim has a choice here. It must refuse to lend its cultural capital to build the ‘Island of Happiness’ where art and luxury mask and maintain a racialized exploitative labor regime, while using its PR department and those of its partners to hide the facts and mislead the public. Unless the Guggenheim changes course with the new museum in Abu Dhabi, G.U.L.F. will continue to remind the Guggenheim that their brand is: “1% Global Museum.”
1% Museums means 1% Art.
Art built on Oppression Loses Meaning.
There are other possible Futures of Art.

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