English charity the Art Fund has come up with a cute new fundraiser, encouraging people across the country to create Edible Masterpieces to sell off in raffles and bake sales. If you don’t want to go it alone, they’ve even included recipe ideas on their website for creations like Wedgwood shortbread, a Sarah Lucas gingerbread woman and LOL’s personal fave, the Van Gogh Ploughman’s platter (above). The funds raised will assist English museums and galleries to buy and exhibit new work.
We are five of the 37 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.
Gabrielle de Vietri
Firstly, let us say that we truly empathise with the artists in this situation. Like them, we are inadvertently caught somewhere between ideology and principle. Both parties are ‘collateral damage’ in a complex argument. Neither wants to see human suffering. Artists must make a decision according to their own understanding and beliefs. We respect their right to do so. While being mindful of these valid concerns, 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. The Biennale’s ability to effectively contribute to the cessation of bi-partisan government policy is far from black and white. The only certainty is that without our Founding Partner, the Biennale will no longer exist. Consequently, we unanimously believe that our loyalty to the Belgiorno-Nettis family – and the hundreds of thousands of people who benefit from the Biennale – must override claims over which there is ambiguity. While we unequivocally state our support and gratitude for our sponsor’s continued patronage, we also extend an invitation to the Working Group to engage with us in dialogue with the purpose of finding an acceptable accommodation. The Biennale has long been a platform for artists to air their sometimes challenging but important views unfettered and we would like to explore this avenue of expression, rather than see the demise of an important cultural asset.
Helen Hughes offers an overview of the current situation and call for action for Frieze.
Biennale of Sydney artists Bianca Hester, Nathan Gray, Gabrielle de Vietri and Charlie Sofo speak out against Transfield sponsorship in the Daily Review.
Helen Razer assesses the call for a boycott in the Daily Review.