March 25, 2021
A promotional image ahead of Dark Mofo invited Indigenous people to donate their blood, in order to drench a Union Jack Flag in a new artwork by Spanish artist Santiago Sierra. Photograph: Dark Mofo
An arts festival renowned for showcasing shocking and provocative works has forced to cancel plans to soak a British flag in donated Aboriginal blood following a massive backlash. Spanish artist Santiago Sierra had planned to immerse the British Union Jack flag "in the blood of its colonised territories," according to the call for donations earlier this month. The controversial project was announced three days ago with a callout for blood donations from “First Nations people” belonging to domains colonised by the British Empire. Sierra said the installation aimed to convey the pain and destruction caused by colonialism.
The Dark Mofo arts festival, which is run by the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania, has pulled the work, which was intended as a statement “against colonialism,” after Indigenous artists around the country decried the work, along with the National Visual Arts Association, several MONA staff members, and other members of the Australian art community.
"We made a mistake, and take full responsibility. The project will be cancelled," reads a post on the Dark Mofo Facebook page Tuesday, signed by creative director Leigh Carmichael. "We apologise to all First Nations people for any hurt that has been caused. We are sorry."
The project was quickly criticized on multiple platforms.
“This is an insulting and abhorrent curatorial decision. There has been enough First Peoples blood spilt across the world because of the English,” wrote Kimberley Moulton, the senior curator for Museums Victoria, in a private Instagram post quoted by the Guardian. “This is not ‘decolonizing,’ it’s not provocative or groundbreaking conceptual practice… it’s shock jock art.”
This isn’t the first time scandalizing artworks have gotten Dark Mofo in trouble. In 2017, animal rights activists protested ahead of Hermann Nitsch’s three-hour performance piece 150.Action, which features 500 liters of blood and a slaughtered bull. The work ultimately went ahead as scheduled.
Sierra is known for works that scandalize audiences, including the transformation of a former synagogue in Germany into a gas chamber and paying four women he described as "prostitutes" addicted to heroin to have their backs tattooed in a single horizontal line.
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