Dark Mofo: we want your blood

Published by Lizzil Gay on

Dark Mofo, a Tasmanian based art festival, have announced an artwork by Spanish artist Santiago Sierra called Union Flag.  First Nations people have been invited to volunteer to donate their blood to soak a Union Jack flag for Sierra to make the work. A Dark Mofo branded image circulated on Instagram with the words WE WANT YOUR BLOOD written in black on a red background. The caption read:

On behalf of artist Santiago Sierra, we are looking for people to take part in Union Flag: a new artwork that will see the Union Jack immersed in the blood of its colonised territories at Dark Mofo 2021.

Expressions of interest are now open to First Nations peoples from countries claimed by the British Empire at some point in history, who reside in Australia. Participants will be invited to donate a small amount of blood to the artwork, facilitated by a medical professional before the festival. Register now via link in bio.

The post, which included a link to the website, states in bold, black letters:

Spanish artist Santiago Sierra will immerse the Union Jack in the blood of its colonised territories. The blood will be volunteered by First Nations peoples from places claimed by the British Empire throughout history, including lutruwita / Tasmania.

To call on the blood of First Nations peoples is not dark and edgy. It is an act of colonial violence and exploitation. There is nothing radical in taking the blood of First Nations people and using their bodies to make art and money. If we consider that the bodies of First Nations peoples have been sites of resistance and politics throughout their ongoing fight against colonial forces, then this work is a negation of that. It is an exploitative act designed to amp up the profile of the festival, publicise the artist and his work and ultimately make money.

Many of us aren’t ‘offended’ by radical acts of political art, bodies, excrement, blood, corrupting flags and the like. In this case however it is the act of colonial exploitation that disturbs me. So much blood has and is spilled as part of the ongoing colonial project in this country called Australia. The announcement of this artwork demands that First Nations people not only ‘volunteer’ to donate their blood, but implicitly demands they work to once again defend their right to not be exploited by the colonial institution of art. Imagine if Dark Mofo had commissioned and given a platform to First Nations artists to create works of truth-telling, telling their story of bloodshed, war and colonial impact.

But they wouldn’t I guess. David Walsh, his cohort and the various business entities which flow from his wealth are steeped in the capitalist main frame of the institutionalised art world. His collection at Mona and his festival are not based on his radical politics or an ideology of collective care like some of us may hope.  I imagine Walsh right now sitting like some spoilt little white king of the colony overlooking his playpen, watching First Nations peoples, artists, critics and the caring public scramble as they try to make sense of a ‘senseless’ work. 

Did we forget that Walsh is an entrepreneur, a businessman, a gambler? He likes money and he likes attention. He has called Mona his ‘hotted-up Torana’ (1). His museum, his festival are HIS plaything, his hot rod and he’s out taking it for fast spin up the highway right now.  Walsh, Sierra and curator Leigh Carmichael clearly feel entitled to spill the blood of First Nations peoples for their purposes. It appears as a great stunt to draw attention to themselves and their festival and to ultimately make some cash. Did we ever really think money and prestige wasn’t the primary driver behind Mona and Dark Mofo?

I would like note that I am not an Indigenous Australian and write this in support of Indigenous Australians who have made public complaints about this work. I further pay my respects to the sacred and sovereign lands of the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the Kulin Nations where I work today. I acknowledge that the sovereignty of these lands has never been ceded and respectfully acknowledge their elder’s past, present and future. 

  1. Gabriella, C 2020 ‘MONA founder David Walsh says the museum is ‘my hotted-up Torana’’, Australian Financial Review (27 Nov 2020)

Lizzil Gay