By Leah Morris.
Spanish artist Santiago Sierra’s proposed ‘Union Flag’ artwork has triggered abhorrence across Australia, as Mona’s Dark Mofo announced an installation comprised of ‘the Union Jack immersed in the blood of its colonised territories’. The festival called on First Nations people to ‘donate a small amount of blood to the artwork’, a problematic request indicative of systemic, institutionalised racism, according to many Australians.
‘This is and has always been a matter of human rights,’ says Rachael Sarra, an Australian artist and designer. ‘Our rights as First Nations people. It is not just a matter of who benefits but who tells our story. We should be determining what and how our stories are told. How our trauma is expressed… I want to remind everyone that this is not an art issue. This is institutionalised racism and it is a human rights issue.’
David Walsh (Mona’s founder) and Leigh Carmichael (Dark Mofo Festival Director) have since apologised for the ‘Union Flag’ proposal, but not addressed any of the requests outlined in ‘BLAK LIST MONA,' a widespread response campaign on social media.
The campaign is led by ‘a collective of First Australian artists, curators and arts workers as well as non-Indigenous allies who will not work with Mona, Mona Foma and Dark Mofo until there are organisational reforms to be respectful to First Peoples, our culture and our histories.’
Requests include apologising not only for ‘Union Flag’ but for other problematic artworks previously exhibited, mandatory cultural awareness training and decolonisation workshops for staff, an appointment of a First Peoples advisory board and the development of a Reconciliation Action Plan for Mona, Mona Foma and Dark Mofo. Once these targets have been achieved, the collective requests appointment of multiple First Peoples curators and the funding of more pakana (Tasmanian Aboriginal People’s) artworks.
It’s the blueprint Mona needs to make reparations, but will it fall on deaf ears?
Walsh posted to the Mona blog yesterday that two years ago he had been ‘briefed about Santiago Sierra's Union Flag. I didn't think much about it at the time.’ He admitted to ignoring a petition from his own staff not to proceed with the artwork. It seems festival Director Leigh Carmichael was not one of those who disagreed with the artwork, as he decided to push through despite internal concerns.
Should Carmichael be sacked? Yes. Accountability is part of leadership, and somebody has to be accountable for the colonial harm caused by his (and Walsh's) decision.
The other question is how we deal with institutionalised racism in this country, because it will continue to raise its ugly head.
Our thoughts are that as long homogenous leaders like Walsh and Carmichael occupy all our leadership positions, nothing will change.
Diversity (and making sacrifices to achieve it) is the only way we will stamp out institutionalised racism from politics, the arts, advertising and every other industry still benefitting from the effects colonisation.