Artists Threaten Boycott of Sydney Biennale Over ‘Abhorrent’ Sponsor

One of the works planned for the 19th Sydney Biennale, now engulfed in controversy: Eglé Budvytytė, Choreography for the Running Male (2012). Courtesy the artist. Photograph: Ieva Budzeikaite. Commissioned by Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius.

The 19th Sydney Biennale is engulfed in controversy ahead of its March 21st opening with close to half the 90 participating artists signing a petition against a leading sponsor of the event, Transfield, a Sydney-based construction giant which has lucrative contracts with the Australian Government for the provision of services for the nation’s controversial policy of mandatorily detaining asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru islands in Papua New Guinea.

The signatories to the petition, including Turner Prize-winning artist Martin Boyce, are demanding the Biennale sever ties with Transfield. But the Biennale board is not budging and has released a statement backing Transfield, one of the  40-year old Biennale’s oldest and most loyal financial supporters: “It is this board’s duty to act in the interests of the Biennale and all its stakeholders—our audiences, government partners, staff, benefactors and sponsors, along with all Biennale artists and the broader arts sector. On the one hand, there are assertions and allegations that are open to debate. On the other, we have a long-term history of selfless philanthropy, which has been the foundation of an event that has served the arts and wider community for the past 40 years.” No word yet on the proposed boycott or if any of the petition artists will in fact pull out of participating in the event.

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