After much consideration we: Agnieszka Polska, Sara van der Heide, Nicoline van Harskamp and Nathan Gray, have decided to withdraw our works from the 19th Biennale of Sydney, because of its relation to Transfield, a company involved in the Australian government policy of mandatory detention.
Our motivations reflect those outlined in the statement issued by artists Ögüt, Castro, Ólafsson, Sofo and de Vietri on February 26th, added as a reference with this letter. They close their statement by expressing their hope that others will join them in “solidarity with all those who are working towards a better future for asylum seekers.” Our withdrawal is such an act of solidarity.
We have requested the Biennale that our withdrawal be registered on their website and signposted at the physical site of exhibition, so that this action will not be unnoticed.
Agnieszka Polska, Sara van der Heide, Nicoline van Harskamp and Nathan Gray
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.