Some of the museum directors that signed the letter to Saadiyat Island-affiliated development and arts organizations today. In total, 60 people signed the letter. They are floating above an artistic rendering of the future Saadiyat Island with the signature buildings of the Guggenheim and Louvre franchises prominently on display at the bottom right. (graphic by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

Some of the museum directors that signed the letter to Saadiyat Island-affiliated development and arts organizations today floating above an artistic rendering of the future Saadiyat Island with the signature buildings of the Guggenheim and Louvre franchises on the bottom right. (graphic by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

An impressive roster of 60 museums directors, curators, editors, and other leading art world figures have written a letter to the art institutions and development organizations involved with Saadiyat Island, where franchises of the Louvre and Guggenheim Museums will open in the coming years. The directors of some of the world’s most important art institutions, including Tate’s Nicholas Serota and the Museum of Modern Art’s Glenn Lowry, have added their names to a letter asserting that “artists and academics should be allowed free passage to conduct research and work that is done in a peaceful and productive manner.”

The letter, which was released today, comes on the heels of news that a third member of Gulf Labor, artist Walid Raad, was denied entry last month to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as he tried to attend the second part of the Sharjah Art Foundation‘s March Meetings. The artists participating in the 2015 Sharjah Biennial, which is organized by the Sharjah Art Foundation, subsequently released a letter of their own urging UAE authorities “to lift entry restrictions for Ashok Sukumaran, Walid Raad, and Andrew Ross” (who was denied entry in March) and maintain “transparency and dialog.”

Signatories of the letter released today, the first of its kind to address the UAE and its burgeoning art scene, include the directors of many global art institutions, including the Queens Museum and Creative Time in the United States, Kadist Art Foundation and Le Consortium in France, Witte de With and Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands, SALT in Turkey, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art in Singapore, Tensta Konsthall in Sweden, MACBA in Catalonia (Spain), M+ in Hong Kong, and the Beirut Art Center in Lebanon.

The letter comes on the heels of a statement last week from the Association for Modern and Contemporary Art in the Arab World, Iran, and Turkey (AMCA) condemning the entry ban UAE authorities have imposed on Gulf Labor-affiliated artists Walid Raad and Ashok Sukumaran. The letter calls on UAE-based art institutions, including in particular the Guggenheim Museum, to convey their disapproval to UAE authorities and vocally dissociate themselves from the action.

Gulf Labor is an international coalition of artists working to ensure that migrant worker rights are protected during the construction of museums and other institutions on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi.

The following is the letter in full:

June 1, 2015

Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Tourism Development & Investment Company, Abu Dhabi, UAE
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, New York, NY, USA
New York University, New York, USA
New York University Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Agence France-Muséums, Paris, France
Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE

Recently, artists Ashok Sukumaran and Walid Raad were denied entry to the UAE on grounds of “security”. This comes after NYU professor Andrew Ross was similarly barred from flying to Abu Dhabi in March. Sukumaran and Raad have a long history of vital and sustained engagement with the UAE, often on the invitation of your institutions. Ross is a professor of standing in New York’s academic community. It appears that the reason these three members of our global arts and academic community were denied entry to the UAE is their involvement with the Gulf Labour Coalition.

As you know, Gulf Labour is an artist-initiated group that has been active since 2010, asking museums and institutions being built on Saadiyat Island to create better conditions for their workers.These conditions of the creation of a cultural world should be of concern to us all, and the proposals of artists in this regard should be seen as a matter of debate, not of “security”. We assert that artists and academics should be allowed free passage to conduct research and work that is done in a peaceful and productive manner.

We the undersigned oppose the barring of Ashok Sukumaran, Walid Raad and Andrew Ross from the UAE. We state that denying artists visas, stopping and deporting them after years of their work in the region, creates a chilling precedent and makes it difficult for arts and academic institutions in the UAE, and those working with the UAE to claim regional dialogue and artistic freedom. We urge your institutions to work with the concerned authorities to lift these bars on their travel.


Nancy Adajania, Cultural theorist and independent curator, Mumbai
Negar Azimi, Senior Editor, Bidoun, New York
Mai Abu El Dahab, Director, Young Arab Theatre Fund, Brussels
Defne Ayas, Director, Witte de With – Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam
Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta, Raqs Media Collective, New Delhi
Ute Meta Bauer, Founding Director, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art, Singapore
Achim Borchardt-Hume, Director of Exhibitions, Tate Modern, London
Sabine Breitwieser, Director, Museum der Moderne Salzburg
Doryun Chong, Chief Curator, M+ Hong Kong
Iftikhar Dadi, Professor, Department of History of Art, Cornell University, New York
Sebastien Delot, former Modern and Contemporary Art Curator of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Head of the Collection of The Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain Saint Etienne
Yasmine Eid-Sabbagh, Vice-President, Arab Image Foundation, Beirut
Rana El Nemr, Board member, Contemporary Image Collective, Cairo
Charles Esche, Director, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven
Patricia Falguieres, Professeur à l’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris
Solange Farkas, Director/Curator, Associação Cultural Videobrasil, Sao Paulo
Kate Fowle, Director-at-Large, Independent Curators International, New York
Anselm Franke, Head of Visual Art and Film, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin
Franck Gautherot, Co-director Le Consortium, Dijon
Charles Guarino, Publisher, Artforum Magazine, New York
Kathy Halbreich, Deputy Director, Museum of Modern Art, New York
Ranjit Hoskote, Cultural theorist and independent curator, Mumbai
Claire Hsu, Founder-Director, Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong
Jitish Kallat, Artist and Curator, 2nd Kochi-Muziris Biennial
Geeta Kapur, Critic and Curator, New Delhi
Mami Kataoka , Chief Curator, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo
Sunjung, Kim, Artistic Director, Asia Culture Information Agency of Asian Culture Complex, Gwangju
Seungduk Kim, Co-director Le Consortium, Dijon
Koyo Kouoh, Artistic Director RAW Material Company, Dakar
Vasıf Kortun, Director of Research & Programs, SALT, Istanbul and Ankara
Carin Kuoni, Director, Vera List Center for Art and Politics, The New School, New York
Marta Kuzma, Rector, Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm
Dennis Lim, Director of Programming, Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York
Maria Lind, Director, Tensta Konsthall, Stockholm
Andrea Lissoni, Senior Curator International Art (Film), Tate Modern, London
Glenn Lowry, Director, Museum of Modern Art, New York
Maha Maamoun, Board member, Contemporary Image Collective, Cairo
Bartomeu Marí, Director MACBA, Barcelona
Jill Medvedow, Ellen Matilda Poss Director, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, Managing Trustee & Honorary Director, Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum, Mumbai
Marie Muracciole, Curator, Director of Beirut Art Center, Beirut, Lebanon
Hammad Nasar, Head of Research & Programmes, Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong
Lars Nittve, Executive Director, M+ Hong Kong
Anne Pasternak, President and Artistic Director, Creative Time, New York
Hila Peleg, Curator, Documenta 14, Kassel and Athens
Sharmini Pereira, Director, Raking Leaves, Sri Lanka
Natasa Petresin-Bachelez, independent curator, editor of L’Internationale Online, Paris
Jenelle Porter, Mannion Family Senior Curator, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
Laura Raicovich, Director, Queens Museum, New York
Eva Respini, Barbara Lee Chief Curator, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
Sukhdev Sandhu, Film critic and Writer, New York University, New York
Nicholas Serota, Director, Tate, London
Sumesh Sharma and Zasha Colah, Clark House Initiative, Mumbai
Pooja Sood, Director, Khoj International Artists Association, New Delhi
Andrea Thal, Artistic Director, Contemporary Image Collective, Cairo
Nato Thompson, Chief Curator, Creative Time, New York
Fawwaz Traboulsi, Writer and Historian, American University of Beirut, Beirut
Emilie Villez, Director, Kadist Art Foundation, Paris
Christine Van Assche, Chief Curator-at-Large, Centre Pompidou, Paris
Anton Vidokle, founder, e-flux, New York
Sheena Wagstaff, Chairman of the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, Metropolitan Museum, New York

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

3 replies on “60 Art World Luminaries Pressure UAE on “Chilling Precedent” Set by Recent Bans”

  1. What you celebrate as “luminaries” (with pictures even) are largely just glorified administrators and management. Is that the ‘leading light’ of the artworld you observe and post on? Outside of a few intellectuals and academics, the well-heeled museum group are not known for putting out any challenging, era-defining statements, nor known for daring exhibition history, nor challenging institutional practices. Or do you think the Tate is a ‘luminary’ institution? All have been constantly participating without critique in all the biennials and events and institutional presentations hosted by the same UAE places and powers that they now ‘worry’ about. It took a comfortable, NYC based artist being stopped (and in his own words, treated well) on the border for them to worry about precedents. This is a prefect example of the insular enlightenment of artworld politics.

  2. I’m sorry but what were these institutions thinking when they got into shady deals with dictatorial governments…did they think exceptions were going to be made to them???

Comments are closed.