Refugee activists target National Gallery of Victoria

October 20, 2017
Activists protest against Wilson Security in the National Gallery of Victoria on October 7

The walls of the National Gallery of Victoria ran red on October 14 as activist group the Artists’ Committee, an informal association of artists and arts workers opposed to the detention of asylum seekers, continued its project to pressure the National Gallery of Victoria to immediately end its contract with Wilson Security.

Wilson Security provides security services to both the gallery and Australia’s offshore detention facilities on Manus Island and Nauru and is known to have committed human rights abuses against asylum seekers and refugees.

In the action, the Artists’ Committee placed red dye into the water of the gallery’s famous moat and water wall. They assured the public the dye used is specially formulated for pools and water features and filters out in three to five days. It is non-toxic, non-staining and non-corrosive.

The protest came just a week after 20 members of the Artists’ Committee shrouded Picasso’s Weeping Woman, one of the museum’s most prized artworks, with a cloth featuring Wilson’s logo and blocked security staff from removing it for about an hour before leaving peacefully. The artists said they chose the painting for its moving and universal portrayal of human suffering.

Artist and protester Nina Ross said: “Wilson is notorious for overseeing, perpetrating and attempting to cover up years of abuse against refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru. Why would the NGV, a trusted cultural institution, continue to work with them?”

Artist and protester Lachlan Anthony said: “This is a national crisis. This is an extraordinary situation. People are dying and suffering at the hands of Wilson and the Australian Government — in the name of all Australians. We won’t stand for it. We urgently need the National Gallery of Victoria to show moral leadership here.”

Wilson’s contract on Manus Island and Nauru ends at the end of October. The Manus Island detention centre is being shut down, but the refugees and asylum seekers have reported an increasingly dire situation, facing violent opposition in the township, many suffering from deteriorating mental health, and a withdrawal of protection and health services.

Independent investigations have revealed the extent of Wilson Security’s abuses on Manus Island and Nauru, including violent and sexual crimes against children, men and women, and attempts to cover up these abuses and failings.

In an open letter to NGV Director Tony Ellwood on August 11, 1500 artists, patrons and members of the public, including all members of the Artists' Committee, urged the gallery to immediately terminate the contract with Wilson Security, arguing it "sends a message endorsing the systematic abuse of vulnerable people". The response from the NGV has been evasive and noncommittal.

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