Artleaks is collective platform initiated by an international group of artists, curators, art historians and intellectuals in response to the abuse of their professional integrity and the open infraction of their labor rights. In the art world, such abuses usually disappear, but some events bring them into sharp focus and therefore deserve public scrutiny. Only by drawing attention to concrete abuses can we underscore the precarious condition of cultural workers and the necessity for sustained protest against the appropriation of politically engaged art, culture and theory by institutions embedded in a tight mesh of capital and power.
In our case, we began collaborating as a working group who wanted to publicly bring to light Pavilion UniCredit’s consistent mistreatment of artists, workers and even visitors to their center in Bucharest, Romania. This center is devoted to contemporary art and culture and financed by one of the most prominent banks in Europe – UniCredit. Yet, we saw its mission to provide a space for critical thinking and dialogue compromised – through the management’s repressive maneuvers against those of us who problematized their politics and criticized their dubious engagement with their main sponsor. Having witnessed and experienced first-hand the exploitations perpetrated by the management, we decided it was our collective duty to openly speak against them, as well as warn those artists, curators and workers collaborating with this center.
Further, we regard this case to be more than a singular instance of abuse, but seek to enable other members of the community to raise similar issues related to corporate sponsors’ co-opting of cultural activity and misuse of social credibility thus gained. We consider it unacceptable on the part of these so-called benefactors to refuse decent conditions for cultural workers through oppressive measures – the same workers whose labor makes their subsistence possible.
In response to blacklisting and continued abuse conjoined with unbridled exploitation, it is our civic and political duty to bring to light the mechanisms of corruption and inspire others to do so as well. Instead of letting singular protests succumb to anonymity, gossip or institutional hush-hush, we must extract from situations of inequality, general conditions that affect the social and political mission of workers and establishments for art and culture.
Implicit in this collective protest is a radical form of institutional critique – emphasizing the urgent need to make visible and counteract all forms of repression, abuse, mistreatment and arrogance that have been normalized through the practices of many cultural managers. While each case of abuse may be different, the increasing amount of power vested in art institutions controlled by corporate players, calls out for a collective struggle for equal rights and fair treatment of cultural workers.
We must expose common-currency practices of slander, intimidation and blackmail as they are. We seek to enable like-minded people to stand together against instances of mistreatment related to cultural labor, repression channeled through dishonest management or blatant censorship. We want to create a strong network of art systems’ whistleblowers – through which we support and protect each other in critical moments as much as possible. Through the power of facts, first-hand testimonies and visual information we seek to deconstruct the politics of who, what and how is invited into the exhibition space, and most importantly the circumstances under which one is ousted and then blacklisted.
We believe in the power of sustained artleaking to turn the tables on corruption and exploitation, to force art and culture institutions to publicly account for their politics and their actions. To mafia tactics and authoritarian tendencies, we answer with openness, angriness and solidarity. The tools that we continue to build together are geared towards empowering – to work with dignity and articulate our positions without obstruction and to exchange information and ideas beyond national borders.
We initiate and provide the community with online tools which are open for use by anyone ready to share this or that case. Each case will be archived, building a comprehensive index of repression. We believe retroactive artleaking is just as important as early-warning leaking in the present. Thus, we welcome cultural workers to publish reports on the situation inside of the institution in any form. Both anonymous and signed reports are welcome. We only ask to submit each case with collective evidence, such as first-hand reports and documentation such as e-mail correspondence, internal regulations and documents, video recordings and so on. We welcome the submission of evidence in the original language and we will do our best to make it available to international audiences in English. Our moderators will guarantee the objectivity of each case in a wiki style of communication with each contributor.
It is time to break the silence.
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Artleaks graphics by Zampa di Leone.