City News

Transfield out, artists back in

'No reason to boycott': Netherlands artist Ahmed Ögüt

Artists have indicated they will return to the Biennale of Sydney now that it has dumped the Transfield Foundation as a sponsor.

Conceptual artist Ahmed Ogut, who lives and works in the Netherlands, said he did not see any reason to continue boycotting the Biennale now that the contract has been severed.

“I see this as a very positive development for the future of the Biennale of Sydney and the role of Bienniales in general,” he told City News.

“I think now the discussion should be brought to a wider stage. It is time to join forces together as one voice; all artists, curators, art workers and cultural producers to create new constructive opportunities, develop further debates, carry our call to end [the Australian] government’s unethical policy of the mandatory detention of asylum seekers.”

Ten out of 92 artists announced they would boycott the Biennale because part of its major sponsor’s money comes from Transfield Services, a company that has the contract to provide logistics on Manus Island and Nauru.

After weeks of uncertainty, the Biennale’s chairman Luca Belgiorno-Nettis – who is also the executive director of Transfield Holdings – announced his resignation from the Biennale board.

In a statement, Mr Belgiorno-Nettis admitted the situation had reached “a crescendo” and that the festival now sat under “a dark cloud”.

“I have tendered my resignation from the Biennale Board in the hope that some blue sky may open up over this 19th Biennale of Sydney…and its future incarnations,” he said.

City of Sydney Greens councillor Irene Doutney applauded the outcome.

“While I never personally called for his resignation, his decision to step aside leaves a clean slate,” she said.

But the federal communications minister Malcolm Turnbull has called on the Biennale to reconsider its decision, and expressed his hope that Mr Belgiorno-Nettis might return as chairman.

Speaking on ABC radio, he warned that the decision will put the future of the festival at risk.

“If we lose the Biennale as a consequence of this that would be an absolute tragedy,” he said. “I think it’s extraordinary, the sheer vicious ingratitude of it all.”

NSW hospitality minister George Souris noted the artists still accept grant money from the federal government.

With John Gooding

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