Dark Mofo cancels proposed ‘Union Flag’ art project after criticism

Organisers have faced significant backlash over the proposal, which would have seen the Union Jack "immersed in the blood of its colonised territories"

Dark Mofo has announced it will be cancelling Spanish artist Santiago Sierra’s proposed Union Flag art project following significant backlash.

Festival organisers attracted criticism over the weekend after making a post on social media asking First Nations people to donate blood as part of the project.

The proposed installation would have seen the Union Jack “immersed in the blood of its colonised territories” and displayed as part of Dark Mofo’s upcoming iteration in June. Briggs and Kira Puru were among the artists who led criticism of the artwork and the festival’s request.

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In a statement posted on Dark Mofo’s Facebook page this afternoon (March 23), creative director Leigh Carmichael said organisers had listened to the “community response” to the proposed project and that it would be consequently abandoned.

“In the end the hurt that will be caused by proceeding isn’t worth it. We made a mistake, and take full responsibility,” Carmichael wrote.

“The project will be cancelled. We apologise to all First Nations people for any hurt that has been caused. We are sorry.”

We’ve heard the community’s response to Santiago Sierra’s Union Flag. In the end the hurt that will be caused by…

Posted by Dark Mofo on Monday, March 22, 2021

 

Carmichael’s latest statement marks an about-face from comments he made to the ABC in a story published earlier today. Then, he had told ABC Radio Hobart that Dark Mofo would “push on” with Union Flag.

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“Provided we can logistically make this work happen, we will,” Carmichael had said. “These are very dangerous topics, they’re hard, they hurt.”

Those comments aligned with a statement Carmichael had made yesterday (March 22) on Dark Mofo’s Facebook page, in which he said the festival had had conversations with “Tasmanian Aboriginal people” before it announced Union Flag.

“Self-expression is a fundamental human right, and we support artists to make and present work regardless of their nationality or cultural background,” he had written.

Brian Ritchie, Violent Femmes member and artistic director of Dark Mofo’s summer counterpart MONA FOMA, disavowed Union Flag earlier today. In a public statement issued on his Facebook page, Ritchie called the project a “gimmick and publicity stunt disguised as a mediocre artwork”.

“I would like to call attention to the fact that Team MONA FOMA are a completely different and separate organisation and had/have nothing to do with the programming of that work. Many others are rightfully decrying the cultural insensitivity of this work,” Ritchie wrote.

“Exploiting people while claiming to protest on their behalf is intellectually void. Stupid programming is aesthetically null. Controversy outweighing the quality of the work is bad art. My apologies to the people affected by this poor behaviour.”

Dark Mofo 2021 will be happening in Hobart from June 16 to 22, with a program set to be announced early next month.

Mona, the organisers of Dark Mofo, declined to comment.

Marcus Whale, who was booked for one performance and in talks for a few others at the event, revealed on Twitter that he was pulling out of the event altogether.

Speaking to NME, Whale said that he had spoken to a few other artists who told him “they were either pulling out or suspending their negotiations”.

“For me personally,” Whale said, “the events of the past few days have made me deeply disillusioned with the festival in a broader way.”

DRMNGNOW, a Yorta Yorta artist who had previously appeared as part of the festival, wrote on social media that he found it “disturbing that [organisers] would release an Expression of Interest for the acquisition of yet more of our spilt blood”.

“To support a white artist to use our blood in the name of art, at that.”

There were also calls for a boycott of the festival and questions regarding its funding – organisers received $1million as part of the Federal Government’s RISE grant fund last year.

 

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