Protest at New York’s Guggenheim Calls Attention to Labor Conditions at UAE Expansion

guggenheim-gulf-labor-protest
The site of the future Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. (© 2011 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch)

On February 22, during the Guggenheim Museum‘s pay-what-you-can Saturday evening hours, some 40 protesters took part in a demonstration inside the museum’s spiraling rotunda to raise awareness of poor labor conditions at the construction site of the future Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, which is currently being built on Saadiyat Island. The action took place at 6:45pm local time, according to Hyperallergic’s Hrag Vartanian, and lasted some 20 minutes as the museum’s security staff responded slowly. The protesters, a coalition dubbed Gulf Ultra Luxury Faction and made up of affiliates from groups including Occupy Museums and Gulf Labor, unrolled banners, dropped leaflets, handed out information, and chanted “Who is building the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi?”, among other actions, much to the confusion of visitors to the institution’s recently opened exhibition on Italian Futurism. In a video shot at the scene, one visitor can be heard wondering aloud: “Maybe it’s a performance piece.”

The protesters pinned a manifesto to the museum’s wall raising awareness of the working conditions endured by migrant workers building Guggenheim and Louvre franchises on Saadiyat Island. It closes: “Exploitation is not the future of art.”

In a statement responding to the protest, Guggenheim director Richard Armstrong told Hyperallergic:

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 clarify that the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is not yet under construction.

Benjamin Sutton


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