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Dark Mofo cancels “deeply harmful” project to soak Union Jack in First Nations blood

Following massive backlash, MONA art festival Dark Mofo has cancelled its plans to soak a British flag in the blood of First Nations people.

Dark Mofo is known for showcasing provocative artwork and Spanish artist Santiago Sierra’s piece was no exception.

The piece, entitled Union Flag invited First Nations people to donate their blood to the project.

Leigh Carmichael

Save for a few local Tasmanian Aboriginal groups, the project sparked outrage among Indigenous people across Australia, including musicians, artists and academics. In the Overland Journal, Noongar academic Cass Lynch wrote “Simply stating or depicting that the beginnings of the Australian colony were brutal and bloody for Indigenous people is a passive act,” Rapper Briggs commented on MONA’s Instagram post with “we already gave enough blood”.

After the announcement of the project, Dark Mofo’s artistic director Leigh Carmichael said: “Self-expression is a fundamental human right, and we support artists to make and present work regardless of their nationality or cultural background.”

On Tuesday, however, after declaring that the show would go ahead, Carmichael posted to the festival’s Facebook page saying he had “made a mistake.” The brief but direct apology announced that the project would be cancelled.

  

Brian Ritchie, the artistic director of Mona Foma — the museum’s summer festival (and member of the US band Violent Femmes) wanted to make clear his disappointment and lack of association with Dark Mofo. “I would like to call attention to the fact that Team Mona Foma are a completely different and separate organisation and had/have nothing to do with the programming of that work,” he wrote.

“Exploiting people while claiming to protest on their behalf is intellectually void. Stupid programming is aesthetically null. Controversy outweighing the quality of the work is bad art.” He ended his statement with “don’t send any more urine-soaked pillows to me, because I have nothing to do with this inanity and disavow it as an individual and on behalf of Team Mona Foma.”

On the subject of the artist himself, Carmichael told ABC Radio Hobart: “I believe the artist’s intention is honourable and clear and he’s against colonialism and all the horror that comes with that.” The artist is also Spanish, which calls into question his right to make art from outside of his own culture and history.

Trawlwulwuy artist and Aboriginal Heritage Officer Fiona Hamilton commented, “This artist does not want our voices, this artist wants our blood and I take that as a silencing act,” she said. “I’m a little tired of non-Aboriginal artists fetishising First Nation’s people and our stories. Our lives are not some kind of bain-marie for artists and others to trauma-mine what they might like to use out of our lived experience.”