STATEMENT: BLOCKADE AT NGV TRIENNIAL VIP OPENING
THURSDAY 14 DECEMBER 2017
We would like to acknowledge the First Nations’ Peoples as the traditional custodians of the land on which we live, and that our actions are performed on stolen land of the Kulin Nations. We pay our respects to Elders past, present, emerging, and acknowledge that Indigenous sovereignty has never been ceded, and that colonisation continues.
On 14th December, the Artists’ Committee held a peaceful demonstration at the VIP Preview of the NGV Triennial, to demand an end to the NGV’s contract with Wilson Security. We invited members of the public, as well as participating artists to help us send a resolute message to the NGV to reconsider their relationship with Wilson Security. It was important to do so in front of state government representatives as well as the NGV’s valued patrons, sponsors, donors, board and foundation members because of NGV’s continued silence over the matter. The decision to protest in the form of a blockade was made in light of several other interventions organised by the Artists’ Committee since August 2017.
The protest was quiet, respectful and at all times we attempted to diffuse confrontation between the protesters and those attempting to enter the gallery, calmly explaining our reasons for disrupting this event. For the most part guests were respectful in kind, with a few exceptions—some who attempted to push through and even strike the linked arms of the protestors. On several occasions security guards encouraged visitors to forcefully push their way through. Other gallery staff in attendance were respectful to the protestors, and many visitors, including exhibiting artists, expressed their support for the campaign.
We are touched by the courage and conviction shown by participating artists Candice Breitz and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, both of whom have renamed their works WILSON MUST GO as an act of solidarity. Lozano-Hemmer states in a Facebook post, that he will donate the proceeds of his participation at the Triennial to a refugee support platform in Australia. Richard Mosse, Trevor Tweeten and Ben Frost have also modified their work in the exhibition to include a video statement from Iranian journalist and Manus Island detainee Behrouz Boochani about Wilson Security and the NGV.
Meanwhile, NGV Director Tony Ellwood was overheard accusing Breitz of ‘encouraging violence’ in reference to our blockade, despite the verbal hostility and physical abuse that some protesters faced from specific VIP attendees. We are deeply shocked by the manipulation and blame imparted onto an international artist for a situation the NGV is responsible for.
At this time, we must also remember that the NGV’s institutional abuse of power extends to our local arts organisations. Two Melbourne ARIs (artist-run initiatives), Bus Projects and TCB Art Inc., were both in discussions with NGV programming staff about participation in the Triennial EXTRA program, but were promptly dropped from the program after they expressed concern about Wilson Security's contract at the NGV.
The NGV Triennial features a number of artworks addressing themes of migration and refugee issues as part of its curatorial desire to showcase ‘diversity’ across “cultures, scales, geographies and perspectives”. When will the NGV acknowledge their complicity in the cycle of violence that perpetuates the refugee industrial complex? There comes a time when representation and ‘bringing awareness’ is not enough, especially if there is cultural capital and profit to be made off aestheticising refugee trauma.
We recognise that these moral acts of protest by local and international artists and art workers are met with real life social, financial, and personal consequences. These experiences are of course incomparable to the lived experience of detainment, and the Artists’ Committee will continue to operate by thinking of and implementing working processes attentive to power and responsibility. If there is a question to be asked, perhaps the NGV can consider how they maintain their political facade of ‘criticality’ via artistic and creative practices if they do not hold themselves accountable? Genuine liberation must come from action, not just visual representations of it.
It is important that we reiterate that our actions are not directed at individual staff members employed by Wilson Security or the NGV, nor at participating artists, but rather, at the governance of this state institution. The Artists’ Committee will continue to demand that the NGV end their contract with Wilson Security. We condemn the institution’s blatant disrespect and disregard for artists and activists who stand against human rights abuses. Most of all, we demand that every single person in detention for seeking asylum be released immediately and resettled safely, alongside the closure of the Australian Federal Government’s immigration detention camps on Manus, Nauru, and Christmas Island. We know that this is a global fight, and we call for you to join us.