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  • Mar 22, 2021

Artist to Immerse British Flag in Blood for Australian Festival

SANTIAGO SIERRA is planning to immerse a British flag in blood for his work, Union Flag (2021), at Hobart’s Dark Mofo 2021. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Hobart’s upcoming annual art festival, Dark Mofo, has received criticism after Madrid-based artist Santiago Sierra’s participating work openly called for blood donations from Indigenous people on March 20, to be used to cover a British flag. 

The artwork, titled Union Flag (2021), is the first event announced for Dark Mofo’s 2021 program, slated for June 16–22. Dark Mofo’s March 20 Instagram post, displaying “WE WANT YOUR BLOOD” in bold text against a red background, invites “First Nations peoples from territories colonised by the British Empire” to donate a small amount of their blood. One volunteer will be selected at random from each former British colony, such as New Zealand and Fiji. According to the artist, the blood will be mixed in a bucket “in which the British flag will be immersed” to acknowledge “the pain and destruction colonialism has caused First Nations peoples.” Dark Mofo’s creative director Leigh Carmichael commented in statement that “Sierra’s work is complex, sometimes confronting and much of his work tends to deal with social inequities.”

The artist Drmngnow, who participated in Dark Mofo 2019, along with Noongar writer Clair G. Coleman and many cultural workers have since voiced their concerns that the project, initiated by a White artist, will reintroduce trauma. Numerous other commentators took to social media in the 48 hours after the announcement to criticize the artist and organization for not consulting Indigenous communities and for not using the festival as an opportunity to foreground the perspectives of First Nations and Indigenous artists.

In response to the criticisms, Carmichael issued another statement on March 22, saying: “Self-expression is a fundamental human right, and we support artists to make and present work regardless of their nationality or cultural background.”

Sierra is known for controversial performances including 160cm Line Tattooed on 4 People (2000) at El Gallo Contemporary Art Space in Salamanca, Spain, where he paid sex workers addicted to heroin the price of one dose to tattoo them, and 245 Cubic Meters (2006), for which he recreated a gas chamber in a former Jewish synagogue as part of Synagogue Stommeln Art Project in Pulheim, Germany. 

Founded by Holbart’s Museum of Old and New Art in 2013, Dark Mofo has become synonymous with provocative events and imagery. A three-hour performance by artist Hermann Nitsch involving volunteers tearing apart a bull carcass in 2017 was met with protests by animal-rights activists. In 2018, 1,500 petitioners from the Australian Christian Lobby called for the removal of four 20-meter-tall inverted crosses installed by festival organizers across the city.

More details about where Sierra’s flag will be displayed at the festival will be released in April.

Celina Lei is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific

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