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Artists Urge Guggenheim to Reverse Decision to End Negotiations with Gulf Labor

Ten artists have released a statement expressing their disappointment with the Guggenheim Museum’s decision to break off talks with the Gulf Labor Coalition concerning rights for the laborers building the museum’s Abu Dhabi outpost, Carey Dunne of Hyperallergic reports. The artists—Abbas Akhavan, Kader Attia, Ali Cherri, Mariam Ghani, Joana Hadjithomas, Iman Issa, Khalil Joreige, Hassan Khan, Ahmad Mater, and Zineb Sedira—have work on display in the Guggenheim’s current exhibition titled “But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise: Contemporary Art of the Middle East and North Africa.”

An excerpt from the statement reads: “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 Gulf Labor Coalition. We urge the museum to reconsider and reverse its decision to terminate its dialogue with Gulf Labor Coalition and affiliated NGOs.”

According to director Richard Armstrong, the museum ended talks with the Gulf Labor Coalition on April 13 because the group “continues to shift its demands on the Guggenheim beyond the reach of [its] influence as an arts institution while continuing to spread mistruths about the project and [the museum’s] role in it.”

One of the signers of the statement, artist Mariam Ghani, said that she hopes that the exhibition at the museum will not be “eclipsed or suborned by the narratives around it––neither the protests by Global Ultra Luxury Faction, nor the statements by the Guggenheim and Gulf Labor Coalition.”

A spokesperson for the Guggenheim, Tina Vaz, said: “The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation has stated publicly many times our belief in the transformative potential of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and our commitment to safeguarding conditions for workers who will build the future museum. Together with our partners in the UAE, we have advanced measurable progress on this issue since we began the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi project in 2007. 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. After six years of good-faith engagement to seek common ground with Gulf Labor, during which we have been unfairly singled out for repeated attacks, we are redirecting our energies to continuing our work with other partners who are interested in effecting meaningful change with us.”