Liz Thompson explains why she is not speaking at the Close Manus rally on Saturday

I am not speaking at the Close Manus rally on Saturday, organised by RAC [Refugee Action Collective]. Without thinking, I agreed to do it, thinking there could be no harm. But in fact the reaction to me speaking on Dateline has made me reconsider.  Continue reading “Liz Thompson explains why she is not speaking at the Close Manus rally on Saturday”

Liz Thompson explains why she is not speaking at the Close Manus rally on Saturday

Ahmet Öğüt, Making Decisions With Heart in Times of Crisis


Maintaining ethical standards in the art world is the responsibility not only of artists, but also cultural institutions and those who support them. Any decision taken by an institution should be made with respect for its public, the people who work for it and the artists who collaborate with it. Continue reading “Ahmet Öğüt, Making Decisions With Heart in Times of Crisis
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Ahmet Öğüt, Making Decisions With Heart in Times of Crisis


Five Artists Withdraw from the 19th Biennale. Statement by Castro, Ólafsson, Sofo, de Vietri, Öğüt

26 February 2014

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.
Libia Castro

Ólafur Ólafsson

Charlie Sofo

Gabrielle de Vietri

Ahmet Öğüt

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The Biennale cannot shift the blame on mandatory detention

A response to the Biennale Board of Directors

The incarceration of asylum seekers must end regardless of whether or not it is bi-partisan government policy. The human suffering caused by mandatory detention is clear, even as mistruths and secrecy prevail regarding the situation of offshore detention centres.

The government relies on contractors to operate detention centres, and detention centres are a source of multi-million dollar contracts for corporations.* As of Saturday, Transfield Services runs the Manus Island detention centre, and they are picking up a proportion of staff from previous contractors.

The centre has been the scene of appalling bloodshed and violence in the last week, including the death of 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati.

Transfield Services is also expanding the detention services that it provides at Nauru. There is no ambiguity about Transfield’s involvement in the privatised detention industry in Australia. Transfield must cease its role in enabling and perpetuating the horror of detention centres.

Transfield Services and Transfield Holdings are partners in the Transfield Foundation, which supports the Biennale of Sydney. The Chairman of the Biennale, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, is also the Executive Director of Transfield Holdings and a Trustee of the Transfield Foundation.

Asylum seekers are damaged by mandatory detention. The Biennale Board’s claim that they, along with Biennale artists, are ‘collateral damage’ in a complex argument is baseless.

The argument is about the continuation of mandatory detention. It is the Biennale Board which has placed the Biennale and all its stakeholders in a situation where participating in the Biennale is now part of the financial circuits of the system of mandatory detention. The Biennale receives funds from detention profits through the Transfield brand. By furthering the cultural capital of Transfield, artists and other stakeholders are now implicated in the system of mandatory detention.

What needs to be done is clear. Transfield Services must withdraw from the detention industry, or the Biennale Board must end its sponsorship by the Transfield Foundation.

The Biennale Board’s statement of unequivocal support and gratitude for Transfield’s continued patronage is deeply regrettable.

So long as the Biennale Board continues to implicate the Biennale in the system of mandatory detention through its relationship with Transfield, I will be joining other community members in boycotting the Biennale.

End the system of mandatory detention.
Disrupt Transfield.
Boycott the Biennale.

Biennale Board of Directors

The Board’s statement can be seen here

Addendum

On 24/02/2014, Transfield announced on the stock exchange that their contract to provide ‘Garrison and Welfare Services’ on Manus Island and Nauru, already worth hundreds of millions of dollars, is valued at $1.22 Billion. See the ASX statement here

The Biennale cannot shift the blame on mandatory detention

Arts sector workers and educators boycotting the 19th Biennale of Sydney

To the organisers of the 19th Biennale of Sydney,

We are workers and educators in the arts sector.

We were concerned to hear that a major sponsor of the Biennale, Transfield, is currently contracted to assist with the running of Regional Processing Centres (RPCs) on Nauru and Manus Island. These RPCs are part of the infrastructure of the Australian Government’s policy of mandatory detention, a policy that has been condemned by organisations such as the UNHCR for human rights abuses and breaches of international law. The Nauru and Manus Island RPCs in particular have come under criticism for the harsh and inhumane conditions in which people seeking asylum have been kept.

We note in this respect that RISE: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees – Australia’s only organisation run and governed by refugees, asylum seekers and ex-detainees – support a complete boycott of the Biennale.

We feel that it would be irresponsible on our part to support an event funded with profits made from the inhumane detention of people seeking asylum in Australia.

For this reason we wish to inform you that we have decided to boycott the 19th Biennale of Sydney.

Dr Lorraine Bower
Ross Coady
Christie Cooper
Mark Gerada
Dr Matthew Holt
Matthew Kiem
Penelope Lee
Dr Suzanne Osmond
Naomi Solomon

Please let us know in  a comment below if you would like to add your name to this letter.

Arts sector workers and educators boycotting the 19th Biennale of Sydney