Over 130 artists are continuing to call attention to the working conditions at the site of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, despite the recent intervention by the Guggenheim Foundation and Museum and changes from the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC). The $800 million museum designed by Frank Gehry is just beginning construction on Saadiyat Island. The group of artists talking boycott, including key figures within the Middle Eastern art world, are threatening to withhold their work as well as refusing participation in museum events, which could be detrimental to the museum as they are essentially building a collection from the ground up. In response to the artists proposed boycott, Foundation Director Richard Armstrong issued the following statement, ”While we share the artists’ concern for the workers, we believe that, in light of the steady progress that has been made with respect to recruitment fees, the prompt payment of wages, the ability to retain passports, the provision of health insurance, good living accommodations, and the imminent appointment of an independent monitor in May, their statement is misinformed. We believe that the Guggenheim Foundation’s work with TDIC has been instrumental in bringing about this progress. We will continue to remain focused on this critical priority.” More on this story following the break.
The artists are particularly concerned with the foreign laborers rights, wanting to see action from the government – forcing contractors to reimburse the initial recruitment fees. “Artists should not be asked to exhibit their work in buildings built on the backs of exploited workers. Those working with bricks and mortar deserve the same kind of respect as those working with cameras and brushes,” shared artist Walid Raad. The problem for the foreign laborers begins in their home countries. Hoping to secure work in the UAE, they pay local recruiters upwards of several thousands of dollars, placing them in serious debt from the get-go. After obtaining a job, workers arrive in the UAE where contractors end up having complete control over their welfare – passports and wages. If a laborer tries to quit or wants to return to their home country, companies can withhold their passport or threaten to fine them. Workers’ rights have improved due to the intervention of the Guggenheim Foundation in collaboration with the TDIC. Three significant changes over the past six months include laborers right to live in the construction village that TDIC has built on Saadiyat Island. These new accommodations have also helped to create a higher standard for workers accommodations in the entire region. A ‘robust independent monitory program’ issuing annual public reports has also been developed. And, lastly the TDIC is now going to contractually require all contractors to reimburse workers for any recruitment fees they have paid to agencies to obtain their jobs. Also in September of 2010 the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation (including Richard Armstrong) along with the TDIC visited the construction village in Saadiyat Island. The village houses roughly 15,3000 laborers and following the visit Armstrong said, “I’ve been to the workers’ village, and the accommodations in themselves are peerless.” A joint statement was issued from TDIC and Richard Armstrong following the visit to the village. Despite the recent changes the artists do not to seem satisfied, and they know that they have the upper hand. According to Raad, “They are just beginning construction on the museum and trying to build a collection at the same time. They need the artists’ participation.” The artists appear uninterested in shying away from boycott talk unless conditions for the foreign laborers at the site are improved to their standards. Source: NY Times