Gulf Labor Coalition at the 56th Venice Biennale – Talks

Words by Riccardo Barluzzi
July 29, 2015

Gulf Labor Coalition is presenting three talks at the Arena of the 56th Venice Biennial, in the Giardini.

Jul 29 | High Culture/Hard Labor: The Work of Gulf Labor and its Allies with  Walid Raad, Nick McGeehan, Shaina Anand, Sharan Burrow, Renaud Detalle

Operating on the principle that the freedoms of artists are connected to the rights of workers constructing and maintaining exhibition spaces, the Gulf Labor Coalition focuses on raising the labor standards of migrant workers building the new wave of museums in Abu Dhabi. Coalition members will present an overview of our campaign’s research and work. They will be joined on this panel by representatives of organizations with a history of involvement in Labor and Human Rights issues in the Middle East: Human Rights Watch, the International Trade Union Confederation, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Aug 2 | Migrant Voices, Global Futures with Ashok Sukumaran, Paula Chakarvartty, Nitasha Dhillon, Parimal Sudhakar

The Persian Gulf countries have been at the cross-roads of cultural exchange and trade between Asia, the Middle East and Europe for hundreds of years. Abu Dhabi and Dubai are cities made up of migrant communities from around the world, including millions of migrant workers from South Asia. Panelists will ask how to make the lives, desires and experiences of workers from India and other sending countries more visible within our discussions of workers’ rights in the building of museums and cultural institutions in the UAE and beyond. The panel will consider the history of migration and cultural exchange between India and the Gulf and the political and economic conditions that shape the difficult conditions of migrant workers in the Gulf today. Attention will be drawn to social movements within sending countries like India—and look at different mobilizing efforts by workers’ organizations, migrant rights groups, trade unions and other activist groups. Panelists will also discuss the larger world of coalition building as it relates to activism and organizing across borders following in the aftermath of the Arab Uprisings, Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter.

Aug 5 | A New Wave of Arts Activism? with Greg Sholette, Mariam Ghani, Amin Husain, Noah Fischer, Guy Mannes-Abbott, Doris Bittar

No longer content to merely represent social transformation, artists are increasingly intervening directly in the sphere of day-to-day life, seeking to spark radical change. From the Occupy Movement to Tahrir Square, from Syria to Maidan to Black Lives Matter, as well as here in Venice with AB-Strike, an immediate and vibrant cultural agency appears to have awakened in such a way that it is often inseparable from street protests, strikes, political rallies, or other forms of mass resistance. Despite important similarities to past moments of resolute cultural opposition in the 1920s/1930s and the 1960s/1970s, the current activist art is self-organized and often unapologetically carnivalesque in spirit. The aim of this panel will be to explore these and other dimensions of what appears to be a new wave of art activism today.

Who Needs Museums and Biennales? with Andrew Ross, Okwui Enwezor, Terike Haapoja, Kaarin Taipale, Marco Baravalle

The nineteenth-century reasons for exhibiting art in public no longer apply. Paternalistic ideas about educating the masses through art appreciation have been supplanted by the heady speculative trading of today’s global artworld, where museums, fairs, and biennales are nodes in the ultra-luxury marketplace. Whose needs do these institutions and mega-events serve? And what purposes do they (still) fulfil? Panelists will discuss the ongoing boom in museum-building and biennale-staging; the underlying economy of labor (both of artists and workers); and also the need for alternatives that safeguard the independent livelihoods of artists at the same time as they incubate the vital social impulses that the arts can channel and liberate.

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