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Can Artistic Practices Negotiate the Demands of Cultural Institutions, Public Space, and Civil Society?

Barrak Alzaid
2 May 2012

A recent project led by Walid Raad attempted to draw attention to, and improve the treatment of, migrant workers on Saadiyat Island by Guggenheim and its Abu Dhabi partner, the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC). Tactics were initially conducted privately but when it was clear to those involved that changes were not being made, Raad, along with a slew of prominent artists from the Middle East and beyond launched a public letter calling for a boycott of the Guggenheim until the labour practices are resolved.


In this instance, political action cannot be divorced from artistic practice; by escalating the protest to the public domain, the project operates at the register of performance replete with public audience and set on an international stage. Although it is unclear what the effects will be and whether labour practices will shift sufficiently to satisfy the petitioners, the action opens up the potential for change, and creates an alternate avenue for showcasing art and art history.

Barrak Alzaid

(b. 1985 Kuwait, MA Performance Studies, NYU) is a writer, curator, and artist, and is the Artistic Director of ArteEast. In this role he has developed and launched a residency initiative, curates a monthly artist talk series and is the chief editor of the ArteEast online quarterly magazine. Recent installation and performance work include Seera Kartooniya (Bushwick Open Studios, 2010) and Diwaniya with Fatima Al Qadiri and Aziz Alqatami (Gwangju Design Biennial 2011). Curatorial work includes antinormanybody (Kleio Projects, 2011) and Anti-Artist Talks (Performa 11, New York). His article, 'Fatwas and Fags: Violence and the Discursive Production of Abject Bodies' is available in The Columbia Journal of Gender and Law. He is a contributor to Jadaliyya and Ibraaz.

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