We write this open letter to join in the call for a boycott of the 19th Biennale of Sydney. We encourage artists and audiences to stand up for what is right and help disrupt a supply chain that profits from human misery.
The Transfield Foundation, the major sponsor of the event, is funded by Transfield Services a company that has joined SERCO and G4S to provide services for the prisons on Manus and Nauru. These prisons are a cruel and unusual form of punishment for those who have come to Australia seeking asylum. They have been condemned by many human rights organisation and are a flagrant violation of international law. The recent attacks on Asylum seekers inside Manus by locals and PNG police are truly shocking. While full details of the attacks are yet to emerge; asylum seekers were beaten and some shot dead. There are even eye-witness confirmations of a sword being used by the attackers. These prisons are off limits for journalists, who are unable to inspect the conditions or welfare of the prisoners. Amnesty reported earlier this year that the prisons lacked basic sanitation and water is rationed to 500ml per day per person (temperatures regularly exceed 40 degrees). When an expert health panel raised concerns over the conditions, they were sacked.
This is unacceptable in an open and democratic society.
It should be noted that Australia is involved in aggressive military actions, contributing chaos and violence, in some of these very same countries from which people are fleeing persecution. For example, Australian Defence intelligence at Pine Gap plays a key role in US military operations including drone strikes; a remote form of extra-judicial assassination. Recently a new supersonic drone, the Taranis, was tested at the Woomera base in Adelaide –to name just a few examples. These drone strikes have proven to kill indiscriminately, terrorise and create a new generation of enemies for the perpetual war on terror – destroying the hopes of the great many who just want to live in peace.
(We have a simple rule in our kitchen – if you make a mess, clean it up.)
Chris Hedges recently wrote that ‘To endure what lies ahead we will have to harness the human imagination.‘ And he is right. We need art now more than ever to sustain our imaginations and to make it possible to transcend our current crises – the destruction of our natural environment, insatiable greed trampling human dignity in pursuit of endless profit, perpetual wars, growing global inequality. We urgently need to make this world work for 100% of humanity – or we face the prospects of extinction.
The fact that the so-called purveyors of the arts could be so lacking in empathy, so lacking in principle, so lacking in imagination – to take money that has come from such systematic cruelty, is of grave cause for concern.
True artists, driven by a sublime madness, will continue to create works of art irrespective of what sponsorship funding the Biennale or any other arts organization has. Art won’t perish. Indeed, some of the most transcendent art has emerged from the darkest moments in history.
We look forward to seeing this matter resolved with Transfield removed as sponsor of the Biennale on the principle that imagination and empathy are inextricably tied and that Art should seek to bring out the best in us.
An even better outcome would be for Transfield and other companies to reject unethical work on the basis of future divestment risk (and because it is the right thing to do). Or that tomorrow’s Transfields are established as not-for-profit entities with a much broader definition of profit than ‘maximizing shareholder value’, but rather maximum profit for the planet and its entire people.
Signed the workers of Joostice:
Christine Marie Shields
About: Joostice is a not-for-profit cold-press juice company making great tasting healthy juices and smoothies. All profits support public interest journalism. We are the market leaders in juice.