In recent weeks, The UAE authorities have refused visas to or denied entry and deported a number of artists and academics including Andrew Ross and Ashok Sukumaran. The reason seems to be the involvement of the individuals concerned with the Gulf Labor campaign to improve the working conditions of migrants at construction sites for the new cultural infrastructure at Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. The latest to suffer this humiliation is the Lebanese artist Walid Raad. He has written an open letter describing his treatment and asking questions of the European and North American museums and universities who are supporting the new museums in the UAE and their sponsors. This letter is attached below.
CIMAM would like to express its solidarity with Walid Raad, Andrew Ross and Ashok Sukumaran and to encourage the museum institutions involved to respond to his letter and condemn the actions undertaken by the UAE.
6 June 2015
Following the post on CIMAM’s Contemporary Art Museum Watch under the title CIMAM supports Walid Raad, Andrew Ross and Ashok Sukumaran after the recent ban on their entry to the UAE, we have received a letter in response from Richard Armstrong, Director, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation.
I write on behalf of the Guggenheim Foundation to acknowledge your letter of June 1 regarding the recent travel restrictions imposed on Gulf Labor Coalition members Walid Raad, Ashok Sukumaran, and Andrew Ross.
We share your concern about these restrictions and can assure you that we have engaged diplomatic and other channels to learn more about this serious matter. As a leader in the international arts community, the Guggenheim has a long history of celebrating and encouraging free expression and of working closely with artists to help realize their ambitions. Indeed, these principles are at the very core of our mission. While we do not have authority over immigration and visa policy in the United Arab Emirates, we continue to actively leverage our sphere of influence.
Let me take this opportunity to clarify some misunderstandings that persist about the Guggenheim’s engagement in the UAE and the status of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum project. There is no construction underway, and no contractor has been selected. In advance of construction, we have worked with the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) to improve conditions for the workers who will build the future museum. Documented progress has been made on worker accommodation, access to medical coverage, grievance procedures, and passport retention, and the appointment of an independent monitor whose reports are publicly available. Additional work is underway, and we are confident that it will yield further improvements.
The Guggenheim has been engaged on the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi project since 2007. Our faith in the project is rooted in our commitment to expand the field of transnational art history, to inspire new modes of curatorial practice and to broaden the appreciation and understanding of modern and contemporary international art from the perspective of today’s Middle East. We believe that the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and our presence in the Gulf region have merit and meaning. The museum’s Trustees and staff understand that this endeavor comes with great responsibility, and we remain committed to the project’s transformative potential.
Director, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation