‘Birth of a Museum’ or an offspring of modern day slavery

When people speak of a museum one would envision an edifice that consists of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest stored and exhibited. The majority of people who visit these historical buildings probably do not know the full account of how these so called spectacular museums are constructed.  For example, the much-anticipated Lou­vre Abu Dhabi exhibition “Birth of a Muse­um”. Through an intergovernmental agreement signed on March 6, 2007, France and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) decided to create a universal museum. This museum will place Abu Dhabi among the great cultural nations, and more particularly, the great museums of the world. However, if you are one of the unlucky foreign legions of migrant workers, there is a dark side to life charged with building the dream.

According to an article by the guardian ‘the main construction firms and their subcontractors are failing to comply with the rules, which are supposed to protect labourers’ rights and health and safety’. Some companies are even going as far as withholding the passports of migrant workers, trapping them in the UAE. Hence, Louvre workers are having to work for nine months to a year just to pay back their recruitment fees.  An investigation carried out by the Observer discovered that many workers live and work in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, with PwC noting some lacked protective clothing and others complaining they had no drinking water or toilet facilities. Moreover, workers were left destitute, confined to their quarters or sent home for taking strike action.

So while the rest of the world will get to experience a so-called unique perspective on the history of art and a form of globalization, the migrant workers who are building it are experiencing a life of exploitation, where their basic workers rights such as minimum wage and safe working conditions are denied. If Marx was alive today he would describe this as a classical example of capitalism as a system. The companies who employed the migrants will be the bourgeois as they own the means of production and are employers of wage labour.  The migrants will represent the proletariat wage-labourers who sell their labour power. As a result they experience a life of alienation and exploitation as the cost of labour is less than the value of the product.

The museum has placed a focus upon bridging the gap between Eastern and Western art. However, it has been described by some as being like corporation with a clearly-defined strategy, profit maximization.  Moreover, it has been noted that the museum will showcase work from multiple French museums, including the Louvre, the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Musée d’Orsay and Palace of Versailles. Which makes one question is it a Western museum? Especially if you take in to account who will visit the museum or who has the means to travel to UAE to have a tour around. I can assure you it is definitely not the workers or even the poor.

In this unforeseen circumstance, on the one hand you have the winners who are the companies making profit from the museum and tourist who benefit from what they believe to be history and art in the making. On the other hand, are the migrant workers, the losers in the situation who are trapped in a life of modern day slavery as their human rights are being stripped off all in the name of art but, what about the art of human exploitation?  

Eva Aisha Caley

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One thought on “‘Birth of a Museum’ or an offspring of modern day slavery

  1. Foreign workers are responsible for the current level of development enjoyed by the likes of UAE and Qatar. Despite this, they are treated as if their lives are expendable, in some cases believe it or not, animals are treated with more humanity than they are. /sigh I wonder what the bigger injustice is; the fact they are treated as they are or how governing global institutions turn a blind eye despite the increasing rhetoric on human rights and development..

    Mohamed Hussein

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