Around 5 PM on Wednesday, members of the activist group Gulf Ultra Luxury Faction (G.U.L.F.) unfurled a 40-foot banner on the Guggenheim Museum’s rotunda. The banner said, “Stop Labor Abuse” and “Countdown to Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.” The activists were highlighting the growing concern for workers building the latest branch of the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi, who many say are being treated like indentured servants.
Over the last year, disturbing details of the treatment of the crew have continued to leak out. Some reports estimate that a million people have been brought in to construct a complex that will include shopping, the new Guggenheim, a new Louvre and a satellite campus for New York University. Workers are promised twice the wages that they are actually paid to emigrate, and then the company confiscates their passport, leaving them with no way out.
The protest at the Gugghenheim was just the most recent of a series of actions to raise awareness of the museum’s blind eye towards workers conditions. Protesters say that Wednesday night was the beginning of a new phase they’re calling the “Countdown” campaign. Previous efforts have been focused on swaying museum trustees, but those actions have proven fruitless. Now, the G.U.L.F. says they will focus on donors of the museum. The group says will be protesting at a scheduled dinner for donors Thursday night, and will increase pressure on the museum to take action.