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Artists in Abu Dhabi Guggenheim boycott

Complaints of hazardous working conditions and withheld wages

Artists say they will boycott the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi over labourer working conditions.
Artists say they will boycott the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi over labourer working conditions.

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A coalition of 130 artists say they will boycott the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim on Saadiyat Island over complaints about the working conditions of foreign labourers.

The New York Times reported today that a range of abuses have been reported on work sites in the island, including a failure of contractors to repay recruitment fees, hazardous working conditions and the arbitrary withholding of wages.

The artists claim that they will have no dealings with the Guggenheim until conditions at the work sites are improved.

“Artists should not be asked to exhibit their work in buildings built on the backs of exploited workers,” Walid Raad, a Lebanese-born New York artist who is one of the boycott’s organizers, said in a statement. “Those working with bricks and mortar deserve the same kind of respect as those working with cameras and brushes.”

It is not the first time that questions about the conditions of labourers on Saadiyat Island have been raised. In 2009, Human Rights Watch published a report that claimed workers were forced to pay massive recruitment fees in their home countries, which were never repaid by their employers.

It also alleged that passports were withheld and when wages were not paid workers were left with nowhere to turn.

The report was condemned by the UAE government, which told the media at the time that Human Rights Watch had failed to give the country credit for improving the conditions of workers across the emirates.

When contacted by Construction Week this morning, TDIC, the developer of the Saadiyat Island site, said a statement would be issued later today.

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