Artists have shrouded Picasso’s famous Weeping Woman to protest the National Gallery of Victoria’s (NGV) commercial partnership with Wilson Security, the company that provides security on Australia’s offshore immigration detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru and is currently responsible for providing security at the NGV.

Photo: Tatjana Plitt

Photo: Tatjana Plitt


“We cover the Weeping Woman today to highlight the systematic covering up of human rights abuses by Wilson Security. We acknowledge the torture and grief of people detained in Australia’s immigration detention centres, that has led to yet another death this week. We stand in solidarity with those abused by Wilson Security,” said Artists’ Committee member and protester, Kylie Wilkinson.

Some twenty protesters participated in the unsanctioned performative intervention, which followed a public letter in August signed by 1500 artists, arts workers and art-lovers to the NGV’s Director, Tony Ellwood, urging him to cancel the contract with Wilson Security. After covering the painting with a black veil with Wilson’s insignia, the artists guarded the painting to prevent Gallery security from removing the veil.

“Wilson Security is responsible for doing the Australian government’s dirty work, tearing apart families and profiting from human suffering. We are appalled that a trusted public art institution is doing business with such an unethical company. We demand that the NGV terminate its contract with the detention industry immediately,” said Artists’ Committee member and protester, Lachlan Anthony. 

Pablo Picasso,  Weeping Woman  (1937)

Pablo Picasso, Weeping Woman (1937)

Weeping Woman is one of the most valuable and popular artworks in the NGV collection. The painting is considered a ‘postscript’ to Picasso’s epic masterpiece, Guernica, depicting the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. In Weeping Woman the artist focuses on the motif at the far left of theGuernica canvas, where a woman mourns her dead child, her lost family and the violence of conflict. In this later painting, Weeping Woman, the artist was no longer painting the effects of the Spanish Civil War in particular, but rather rendering a singular, universal image of suffering. 

The artists targeted this painting of human suffering to draw attention to the Gallery’s support of a company that profits from the offshore detention industry. Not only does Wilson Security operate facilities that are, on the face of it, unjust and cruel, but the company has failed to deliver a minimum standard of care to detainees imprisoned in Nauru and on Manus Island. Detainees have suffered physical and sexual abuse at the hands of Wilson guards. The company has sought to cover up these abuses and failings. These facts have been widely reported in the media and are backed by findings of independent NGOs. 

Photo: Tatjana Plitt

Photo: Tatjana Plitt