The National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) stands with members of the arts community who have raised concerns over Dark Mofo’s curatorial decision to commission a new, deeply harmful artwork by Spanish artist Santiago Sierra. As part of the festival program, the artwork solicits First Nations people for blood donations that will be used to soak the Union Jack flag.
This week Dark Mofo put a call out on their Instagram page to First Nations people living in countries colonised by the British Empire to “donate a small amount of blood to the artwork.” The post featured black upper case text reading “We want your blood” on a rich red background.
Dark Mofo has gained a reputation for displaying art that intends to shock. While NAVA acknowledges provocative art as a feature of the wider arts ecology, the national peak body joins criticism of the work, which actively disregards cultural safety for First Nations audiences and participants, and is being made at the expense of First Nations bodies and wellbeing.
While Sierra states that the work is “an acknowledgement of the pain and destruction colonialism has caused First Nations peoples, devastating entire cultures and civilisations”, many called out the insensitive work as tone deaf.
Visual artist and traditional pakana dancer Jam Graham-Blair commented on the post, “Perhaps the money should have been given to Indigenous land care groups, or decolonial actions, or language revival programs, or Indigenous child care or rehab or health care, or climate action … so many other ways to help the colonised rather than literally asking for their blood. White people always wanna make art/write about us but never wanna give us the resources to tell our own story. This artwork is an act of colonisation.”
Wirlomin Noongar writer and researcher Cass Lynch added, “To ask First Nations People to give blood to drench a flag recreates, not critiques, the abhorrent conditions of colonisation. What started out as a passive concept that does nothing for truth-telling turns into a hypocritical and extractive exercise that repeats the blood lost in the past.”
“Blood continues to be spilt from ongoing police and settler brutality and they want First Peoples to donate their blood?” asked Yorta Yorta woman Kimberley Moulton. “To be soaked up by a symbol of what oppressed us and was worn on the jackets of the red coats that shot and abused our Ancestors?”
Samoan and Persian artist, curator, writer, Léuli Eshraghi added, “A much better use of this money would be commissioning First Peoples artists who have already delved critically and aesthetically in exceptional ways into the deeply white supremacist practices of anthropometry and theft of Ancestors’ remains. Expect everyone to show up in protest if you attempt to carry through with this.”
NAVA urges Dark Mofo to release an urgent public statement, reconsider the decision to program Sierra’s artwork and engage rigorous community and cultural consultation for all future commissioned works.
In a statement released on Tuesday 23 March, Producer Leigh Carmichael said: “We’ve heard the community’s response to Santiago Sierra’s Union Flag. In the end the hurt that will be caused by proceeding isn’t worth it. We made a mistake, and take full responsibility. The project will be cancelled. We apologise to all First Nations people for any hurt that has been caused. We are sorry.”
Image: We Want Your Blood – courtesy of Dark Mofo