Dark Mofo Has Cancelled the Controversial First Artwork Announced for Its 2021 Festival

Understandably, the decision to display a British flag immersed in the blood of First Nations peoples received instant backlash.
Sarah Ward
Published on March 23, 2021

When the pandemic started impacting events in 2020, Dark Mofo was one of the first to scrap its plans for the year. So, when festival organisers said that they'd be forging ahead in 2021, it was welcome news for fans of its weird, wonderful, distinctive and attention-grabbing programs. There's a difference between pushing boundaries and completely misjudging them, though, as the Tasmanian fest has discovered in the past few days. Accordingly, after revealing its first artwork for the 2021 festival, Dark Mofo has now announced that the piece will no longer go ahead.

The backlash to the event's first program reveal for this year hasn't been surprising. In a piece called Union Flag, Spanish artist Santiago Sierra was planning to immerse a British flag in the blood of First Nations peoples from territories colonised by the British Empire. Yes, that sounds ill-thought-out, as well as immensely tone deaf and traumatic — as did the accompanying request for First Nations peoples to donate their blood for the artwork.

Dark Mofo announced its plans for Union Flag on Saturday, March 20, and received calls for it to be cancelled the same day. Again, that should surprise absolutely no one. Nor should the fact that those calls have only grown since the weekend — as you'd expect given that the project asks First Nations peoples to literally spill their blood, and for a piece of art that purports to comment on a painful colonial history of being forced to do just that.

Today, Tuesday, March 23, Dark Mofo Creative Director Leigh Carmichael has announced that Union Flag has been scrapped, and also issued an apology. "We've heard the community's response to Santiago Sierra's Union Flag. In the end the hurt that will be caused by proceeding isn't worth it," Carmichael said. "We made a mistake, and take full responsibility. The project will be cancelled. We apologise to all First Nations people for any hurt that has been caused. We are sorry."


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The news comes just a day after Carmichael issued a statement supporting the piece. Yesterday, on Monday, March 22, Carmichael said that Dark Mofo had "been overwhelmed with responses to Santiago Sierra's Union Flag by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people from around the world, but that "self-expression is a fundamental human right, and we support artists to make and present work regardless of their nationality or cultural background."

Dark Mofo will announce its 2021 program — without Union Flag — in April.

Dark Mofo will run from Wednesday, June 16–Tuesday, June 22 in Hobart, Tasmania. For further details, head to the festival's website.

Top image: Lusy Productions.

Published on March 23, 2021 by Sarah Ward
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