Australian festival sacks plan to soak UK flag in Indigenous blood

Sydney, Australia: A popular Australian arts festival has canceled a Spanish artist's project to soak a British flag in Indigenous people's blood after angry protests from the Aboriginal community.

The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Tasmania commissioned the artwork from Santiago Sierra for its Dark Mofo festival, which draws thousands to the island state capital of Hobart each winter and often courts controversy.

The art was intended as a statement “against colonialism.” 

Just three days after posting a social media callout for Indigenous people from colonized territories of Britain to donate up to 470ml of their blood for the exhibit, MONA canceled the project Tuesday amid a public backlash.

"A colonizer artist intending to produce art with the actual blood of colonized people is abusive, colonizing and re-traumatizing," Indigenous author Claire G. Coleman tweeted.

"The idea is disgusting and terrible and should not have been considered."

MONA curator Leigh Carmichael initially defended the plans, posting on the festival's Facebook page on Monday that "self-expression is a fundamental human right".

But a day later he apologized "to all First Nations people for any hurt that has been caused", canceling the project and calling it a "mistake".

A group of Indigenous artists, curators, and arts workers have created a petition saying they will not work with MONA or its festivals "until there are organizational reforms to be respectful to First Peoples, our culture and our histories".

MONA's founder, millionaire professional gambler David Walsh, admitted he had given little consideration to the project, which also created an internal protest from museum staff who called it "tone-deaf".

"Naively, perhaps incredibly, I thought it would appeal to the usual leftie demographic. I approved it without much thought (as has become obvious)," Walsh wrote in a blog post.

"I am the archetypal beneficiary of colonialism. And I've caught myself using that as an excuse for my ignorance."

Sierra appeared unapologetic, defiantly posting on Instagram: "OFTEN THE SLAVE DEFENDS THE SYMBOLS OF THE MASTER."

So far, more than 2,000 people have signed the petition that calls on MONA to issue a formal apology, hold mandatory staff cultural awareness training and decolonization workshops, and appoint an Indigenous advisory board.

They are also demanding the appointment of multiple Indigenous curators and the funding of more Tasmanian Aboriginal art.

Kimberley Moulton, the senior curator for Museums Victoria, in a private Instagram post wrote: “This is an insulting and abhorrent curatorial decision. There has been enough First Peoples blood spilt across the world because of the English." 

MONA, which was opened 10 years ago and displays Walsh's vast personal art collection, is widely credited with helping to revitalize Hobart and along with its annual festivals is a major tourist drawcard for the city.

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