Boycotting the Biennale: Libia Castro and Ólafur Ólafsson

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At least five artists will boycott the Biennale of Sydney due to its connection with Transfield Services, the contract-holder to operate detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

The five boycotting artists, Ahmet Ögüt,  Libia Castro, Ólafur Ólafsson, Gabrielle de Vietri and Charlie Sofo said in a statement they had revoked their works, cancelled their public events and relinquished their fees.

“It is a chain effect. First we felt uncomfortable, then they felt uncomfortable, now other sponsors start feeling uncomfortable,” Mr Ögüt said. “The Biennale has to either reconsider its current agreements with Transfield or lose credibility in the art world.”

On February 21 the board of the Biennale made clear it would not cut ties with Transfield over the issue in a letter addressed to protesting artists.

“The Biennale’s ability to effectively contribute to the cessation of bi-partisan government policy is far from black and white. The only certainty is that without our Founding Partner, the Biennale will no longer exist,” the letter stated.

Biennale chairman Luca Belgiorno-Nettis is also an executive director of Transfield Holdings, the company from which Transfield Services spun off in 2001.

Prominent Australian artist Richard Bell said that he was hoping for more than just a boycott. “We’re going to find out if the Sydney art scene is as pissweak as we think it is,” he told Guardian columnist Van Badham.

The City of Sydney is the festival’s second largest sponsor, fronting up a $300,000 contribution. But it has also side-stepped the issue. A motion to “express…concern regarding the sponsorship agreement with Transfield and the Biennale of Sydney” was amended such that Lord Mayor Clover Moore will instead write to Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison calling for better treatment of asylum seekers.

Greens councillor Irene Doutney issued a press release yesterday calling this “the easy way out” and announcing she will not partake in or visit the Biennale.

Liberal councillors Christine Forster and Edward Mandla opposed both motions.