A version of this article was first published by ArtsHub Australia.
Australian music and arts festival Dark Mofo recently announced its first major project for the 2021 festival, including an artwork, “Union Flag” by Spanish artist Santiago Sierra, that called for the use of First Nation’s blood to immerse the British flag. The project drew widespread outcry, including from First Nations artists.
The banner was to be put on display during the festival, but the project has since been canceled because of backlash.
Dark Mofo Creative Director Leigh Carmichael said in a statement on March 23:
We’ve heard the community’s response to Santiago Sierra’s Union Flag. In the end the hurt that will be caused by proceeding isn’t worth it. We made a mistake, and take full responsibility. The project will be canceled. We apologize to all First Nations people for any hurt that has been caused. We are sorry.
In an earlier statement this week, Carmichael acknowledged it was a “logistically difficult project.”
Carmichael continued: “Sierra’s work is complex, sometimes confronting and much of his work tends to deal with social inequities. He was commissioned to present a new work for Dark Mofo and today’s announcement is the result of almost two years of work between his studio and the festival team.”
Artist Santiago Sierra said of the project, “The intent of this project is against colonialism. It is an acknowledgment of the pain and destruction colonialism has caused First Nations peoples, devastating entire cultures and civilizations.”
Response to the call for blood resulted in a flood of negative commentary on social media.
Cass Lynch, a Wirlomin Noongar writer and researcher, added to the commentary in a statement from the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA). “To ask First Nations People to give blood to drench a flag recreates, not critiques, the abhorrent conditions of colonization,” Lynch said. “What started out as a passive concept that does nothing for truth-telling turns into a hypocritical and extractive exercise that repeats the blood lost in the past.”
NAVA also urged Dark Mofo to reconsider the decision to program Sierra’s artwork and engage rigorous community and cultural consultation for all future commissioned works.
Visual artist and traditional pakana dancer Jam Graham-Blair described the artwork as “an act of colonization.”
“White people always wanna make art [and] write about us but never wanna give us the resources to tell our own story,” said Graham-Blair.