This is not a story about art depicting the asylum process, or about asylum seekers making art, but rather about the sinister connection between art sponsorship and the provision of detention services, or more specifically, about the close, and abhorrent, link between the Sydney Biennale and its founder patron, Transfield Services (Australia).
The Biennale of Sydney, to be held this year between March 21 and June 9 2014, is an international festival of contemporary art, held every two years. It is the largest and best-attended contemporary visual arts event in Australia and, alongside the Venice and São Paulo biennales and Documenta, it is one of the longest running exhibitions of its kind and was the first biennale to be established in the Asia-Pacific region.
Since 2010, Transfield Services (Australia) has held a series of contracts for ‘Garison and welfare services’ with the Australian Government’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection totalling over $340 million. Since 2013 it has a further series of contracts: in February 2013 for $175 million, and another interim contract announced in January 2014 whose scope extends beyond providing services by Transfield for the Melbourne and Nauru detention centres to the refugee detention centre located on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Put simply, Transfield’s involvement in migration detention has massively expanded in both dollar terms and scope from humble beginnings of around $40,000 for grounds maintenance in the Melbourne detention centre, to contracts valued over $1bn, and Transfield is set to become the major contractor of Australia’s offshore detention centres. On 24 February 2014 it was announced thatTransfield has been granted a further contract to run maintenance, catering and security services in Manus Island and Nauru in a $1.2 bn deal in the midst of heightened public awareness of offshore detention. Thus, Transfield is clearly benefiting hugely from Australia’s Tony Abbott’s draconian policy of detaining asylum seekers off shore. Continue reading “Australia: asylum and art”