Australian Festival Cancels Blood-Soaked Flag Project
By Celina Lei
Madrid-based artist Santiago Sierra’s proposal to immerse the British flag in blood donated by Indigenous volunteers for Hobart’s upcoming Dark Mofo festival, run by the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), was canceled on March 23 following community backlash ever since the work was announced on March 20.
Less than 24 hours after defending the project against critiques from members of Indigenous communities and art and cultural communities, Dark Mofo’s creative director Leigh Carmichael admitted the festival’s “mistake” in a March 23 Facebook post, apologizing to “all First Nations people for any hurt that has been caused.” Details of the artwork, Union Flag (2021), have since been removed from Dark Mofo’s website. The original post calling for blood donations can still be seen across the festival’s platforms on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, at time of writing. The artist has yet to issue a direct response, but posted the message “often the slave defends the symbols of the master” on his Instagram account eight hours after Dark Mofo’s cancellation announcement.
Following Carmichael’s apology on the same day, a statement from MONA founder David Walsh revealed that several MONA staff had denounced Sierra’s project ever since its inception two years ago, but along with Carmichael, Walsh “didn’t see the deeper consequences of this proposition.” Aboriginal Heritage Officer of Tasmania and Dark Mofo’s 2018 artist participant Fiona Hamilton called for Carmichael’s resignation after this “grave error of judgement,” according to ABC News on March 24.
After the cancellation of Sierra's project, a petition titled “BLAK LIST MONA” was launched by a group of Indigenous Australian art workers and supporters, among them the Aboriginal-run Blaklash Collective and Yorta Yorta curator Kimberley Moulton, asserting their refusal to work with MONA, Dark Mofo, and MONA Foma (an affiliated summer festival) until structural changes including “mandatory cultural awareness training and decolonisation workshops” for all staff are implemented. The petition has gathered more than 1,900 signatures out of its goal of 2,500 at time of writing.
The March 20 Instagram post displaying “WE WANT YOUR BLOOD” from Dark Mofo in its announcement of Sierra's project Union Flag, which the artist meant to acknowledge “the pain and destruction colonialism has caused First Nations peoples,” raised concerns among Australian cultural workers who felt that the call, initiated by a White artist, will reintroduce trauma and deny the opportunity for Indigenous artists to center their perspectives on the subject of colonialization. Both Dark Mofo, as an annual festival, and Sierra, as an artist, are known for their controversial and provocative imagery. The 2021 festival is still slated for June 16–22.
Celina Lei is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.
To read more of ArtAsiaPacific’s articles, visit our Digital Library.