Tasmania’s Dark Mofo arts festival has cancelled a controversial artwork that planned to soak a British flag in the donated blood of First Nations people following massive backlash from Indigenous and non-Indigenous people across the country.
On Saturday, festival organisers on behalf of Spanish artist Santiago Sierra put a call out via social media for blood donations from First Nations people who are currently living in Australia, with plans to immerse the Union Jack in the blood of its colonised territories.
The non-Indigenous artist Sierra said in a statement about the project titled Union Flag: “The intent of this project is against colonialism. It is an acknowledgement of the pain and destruction colonialism has caused First Nations peoples, devastating entire cultures and civilisations.”
Despite claims of support from a small group of local Tasmanian Aboriginal people, responses to the call for blood have been overwhelmingly negative, with First Nations artists, musicians and academics calling it disturbing, racist and sick.
Noongar writer Claire Coleman said in a statement on Twitter: “A coloniser artist intending to produce art with the actual blood of colonised people is abusive, colonising and re-traumatising. The idea is disgusting and terrible and should not have been considered.”
Dark Mofo’s decision to promote a non-Indigenous artist in place of local Indigenous talent did not go unnoticed either.
Māori musician Kira Puru tweeted: “Sierra’s works are notoriously expensive and to choose to give this piece a platform to tell the story of our First Nations peoples rather than elevating local Indigenous voices reeks of colonial bs in and of itself.”
Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre’s Nala Mansell told NITV, “while it is important to acknowledge that this country was invaded by the British and the blood spilt by our ancestors during the invasion of our lands.”
“We are not in support of the call for Aboriginal people to donate blood, I think it’s obvious that this is very offensive to Aboriginal people. We’ve spilt enough blood over the past 200-years and don’t feel like we need to spill anymore,” she said.
Before the decision to cancel the project was announced on Tuesday, Dark Mofo creative director Leigh Carmichael released a statement on Monday saying the work would go ahead despite the backlash.
“Self-expression is a fundamental human right, and we support artists to make and present work regardless of their nationality or cultural background.”
“The range of perspectives reflects the conversations we had with Tasmanian Aboriginal people prior to announcing the project.”
“It’s not surprising that the atrocities committed as a result of colonising nations continue to haunt us,” Creative Director Leigh Carmichael wrote.
However, not long after Dark Mofo released another statement on social media apologising to First Nations people and confirming Sierra’s project would not proceed.
“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 cancelled.”
“We apologise to all First Nations people for any hurt that has been caused. We are sorry.” – Leigh Carmichael