Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Statement of Withdrawal from 19th Biennale of Sydney

STATEMENT OF WITHDRAWAL
26 February 2014

We are five of the 41 artists - Libia Castro, Ólafur Ólafsson, Charlie Sofo, Gabrielle de Vietri and Ahmet Öğüt - who signed a letter to the Board of the Biennale of Sydney in relation to their founding sponsor, Transfield.

We make this statement in light of Transfield’s expanding management of Manus Island and Nauru immigration detention centres. We act in the wake of the death of Reza Berati from inside Manus Island detention centre on February 17. We are in urgent political circumstances with a government that is stepping up their warfare on the world’s most vulnerable people daily.

We have received indications from the Board of the Biennale and Transfield that there will be no movement on their involvement in this issue. In our letter to the Board we asked for action and engagement, but we are told that the issue is too complex, and that the financial agreements are too important to re-negotiate.

And so we make this statement from a critical juncture of political urgency and artistic autonomy.

This is a statement of our withdrawal from the 19th Biennale of Sydney.

We have revoked our works, cancelled our public events and relinquished our artists’ fees. While we have sought ways to address our strong opposition to Australia’s mandatory detention policy as participants of the Biennale, we have decided that withdrawal is our most constructive choice. We do not accept the platform that Transfield provides via the Biennale for critique. We see our participation in the Biennale as an active link in a chain of associations that leads to the abuse of human rights. For us, this is undeniable and indefensible.

Our withdrawal is one action in a multiplicity of others, already enacted and soon to be carried out in and around the Biennale. We do not propose to know the exact ethical, strategic or effective action to end mandatory detention, but we act on conscience and we act with hope.

We have chosen to redirect our energies into multiple forms of action: discussions, workshops, publications, exhibitions and works that will continue to fuel this debate in the public sphere. In this, we stand with our local and international communities that are calling for the closure of Australia’s offshore detention facilities. We ask for their active support in keeping this issue at the forefront of our minds, in the warmest part of our hearts, in the most urgent of discussions and in the most bold of actions, until the detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru close.

We withdraw to send a message to the Biennale urging them, again, to act ethically and transparently. To send a message to Transfield that we will not add value to their brand and its inhumane enterprise. Finally, and most importantly, we withdraw to send a message to the Australian Government that we do not accept their unethical policy against asylum seekers.

We ask that the Biennale of Sydney acknowledge the absence of our work from the exhibition. As the Biennale has offered to provide a platform and support for our dissent, we request that our withdrawal be registered on the Biennale website and signposted at the physical site of our projects. In the pervasive silence that the Government enforces around this issue, we will not let this action be unnoticed.

We act in solidarity with all those who are working towards a better future for asylum seekers. We hope that others will join us.

Libia Castro
Ólafur Ólafsson
Charlie Sofo
Gabrielle de Vietri
Ahmet Öğüt

Contact: 2014workinggroup@gmail.com

36 comments:

  1. Fantastic work and congratulations to all five. This stand is brave and will reverberate. More artists will follow and the pressure will grow. My only suggestion would be to continually link this boycott with other moves for Super fund divestments from Transfield

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  2. Well done to all of you! Solidarity with you too!

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  3. Love it! Let's still see your work exhibited elsewhere if possible? Maybe with profits to help with asylum seeker causes? Just a thought.

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  4. yes, congratulations to all concerned. i can only hope some others will be as principled and realise that it's only by such action that we have a hope of changing these brutal policies. refusing to allow Transfield to use the figleaf of arts sponsorship is essential

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  5. This is inspiring stuff! You have set both a precedent for acting with integrity, and a precedent for how to not cave in to the belief that artists must grovel and pander to the arts bureaucracy in order to sustain a career... that, indeed, artists can not only have courage, but produce the very matter that sustains the visual arts industry. Take away the participation of those artists who create the 'art stuff', and only bureaucrat, emaciated dragon-bones remain! Fantastic!

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  6. Simply courageous and exemplary. Thank you !

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  7. Respect and admire your committment; and all that it entails in terms of how you see yourselves as artists and professionals. Bravo.

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  8. This is an inspiring move. I'm sure your decision will ripple through many unexpected spaces.
    I think it would add greatly to your cause if you could feature some policies that were alternative to mandatory detention. I suspect that much support for this policy is due to a sense that there is no alternative. No matter how determined the opposition, many would still ask themselves, 'Well, what else can we do?'

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  9. courageous! Hard to give up such a prestigeous event -so good on you. Not many athletes gave up Sochi for gay rights. Lets hope your stand reverberates.

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  10. Bravo, congratulations! I would love to be involved in supporting any alternative art action while Im in Sydney...if any between 15th to 19th March. Kevin Murray, in answer to alternatives, I worked with refugees in Amsterdam for the year 2000, a tiny city where so many desperate victims of war and terror run and rebuild their lives as Amsterdam citizens. Free citizens. My job was with one of the many voluntary organisations, where newly arrived asylum seekers would sign in to be given sandwich lunch, shower cubicles if needed, and chance to change their clothes in our free op shop....the organisation had washing machines to wash the clothes, which went back into the op shop. A ticket for a neighbouring overnight mission house would be stamped. Every new asylum seeker was able to receive free accommodation for twenty nights in each month if they used the ticket stamps in the various places on offer. And by the way, Amsterdam is the safest city I know in my travels, for the first few months I would walk all over the city at night, and see other women walking alone too...with confidence, differently to how women walk alone late at night in Melbourne. Ask the Greens, they have alternatives clearly researched and spelt out on their website.

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  11. AS ARTISTS WE ARE BULLETS,
    TO INSPIRE,
    CHANGE,
    &
    NOURISH.

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  12. The right thing to do. Well done you guys are amazing.

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  13. This is such a brave and inspiring action and will certainly cause others to think more on this issue and search their souls when they view an empty performance space with your statement of commitment to your moral stance. I hope the Biennale honours that. Fantastic!

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  14. Lots of respect and wishes of good luck from here!

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  15. Your courage, values and action are an inspiration! Thank you for your sacrifice so that others have the chance to witness real ethical leadership.

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  16. Thank you for your stand. Respect to all 5 artists.

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  17. Nothing but respect. We all stand with you.

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  18. Admire, respect and support to you all

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  19. An excellent decision. Well done! Can we all consciously search for Transfield's involvement in Australia's day-to-day life and boycott it wherever possible?

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  20. I'm proud of you, it must be very disappointing but its great to see you take a stand. Here's hoping the people in power will sit up and take notice at some point soon..

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  21. Bravo! It takes courage and conviction as well as a sense of selflessness to sacrifice such an honor for a greater cause. I will think about this for years to come.

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  22. Absolutely great! Big respect to all five of You!

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  23. Strong move that doesn't go unnoticed.
    Oslo, Norway

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  24. Great to know there are still ethical artists in the world who are not affraid to make a comment on the world around. ( as artists should ) thank you kindly for your sacrifice .

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  25. The City of Sydney also needs to end its partnership in the Biennale with Transfield Holdings, the jailers at the Manus gulag; they should join the boycott by Biennale artists, supported by Senator Lee Rhiannon. I hope the Lord Mayor and Alex Greenwich, darlings of the Mardi Gras, saw the witness accounts on SBS Dateline testifying that gays sent to that island are routinely gangraped and abused. We send GLBQT refugees to a country where their sexuality is punishable by up to 14 years in jail. The Dazzling Duo should remember that rainbows are not just for the GLBQT of the electorate, they are for GLBQT of every race, everywhere. I emailed the mayor about this a fortnight ago, I don't expect a reply. But unless they drop Transfield, they will look as shallow as a puddle of wee in a playground.

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  26. Also I wonder if the idea has been mooted to hold an alternative Biennale - not quite a Salon des Refuses for the Refugees. Even an online portal would serve the same purpose. Maybe it could even be expanded to be open to all artists who wish to make expression about this shameful stain on our culture.

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  27. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/mar/07/sydney-biennale-chairman-quits-transfield-detention

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