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Artists threaten to boycott Gehry's Guggenheim

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The Frank Gehry-designed Abu Dhabi Guggenheim Museum currently under construction is to be boycotted by a group of more than 130 international artists and writers if the rights of workers on the site are not addressed

A statement from the artists has been released through the Human Rights Watch organisation, claiming that ‘human rights violations are currently occurring on Saadiyat Island, the location of the new museum’.

The artists have vowed not to cooperate with the project until the Guggenheim and Abu Dhabi authorities employ ‘a reputable independent monitor’ to publish the site’s working conditions, and provide reimbursements to workers who paid recruitment fees.

The developer of Saadiyat Island, which is the government-owned Tourism Development and Investment Company in Abu Dhabi, has released a statement in response, stating that a number of the recommendations are already being implemented.


The Guggenheim Foundation’s response:

Human Rights Watch has singled out two key issues since the publication of the joint agreement between the Guggenheim and TDIC in September of 2010, which announced several milestones in securing workers’ rights on Saadiyat Island. These issues comprise the appointment of an independent monitor and a provision to ensure that employees at the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi site are reimbursed for any recruitment fees paid.

We believe that the statements that were made last week by Human Rights Watch have painted an inaccurate picture of the substantial progress in safeguarding workers’ rights that has been made to date. Clearly, the Guggenheim shares the goals expressed by you, the signatories of your petition, and Human Rights Watch to protect worker’s rights in Abu Dhabi. We believe that the progress made thus far is more than ceremonial. In fact, it signals fundamental changes in the emirates’ decades-long labor practices.

It is very troubling to us that your statement portrays the Guggenheim as a passive agent with little consciousness of the issues at hand. That is the exact opposite of the truth… At present we fear that Human Rights Watch’s statement and your petition are jeopardizing a project that promises to have a very positive effect in the region by casting a negative light on the Guggenheim. We strongly believe that the Guggenheim Museum Abu Dhabi, with its future program of transnational contemporary art and thought, can serve as a beacon for important intellectual activity, cultural exchange, and, ultimately, critical shifts in social practice.


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