Dark Mofo cancels controversial First Nations blood art project after days of backlash

Dark Mofo's creative director released a statement on Tuesday afternoon saying the festival had "made a mistake".

Festival organisers used social media over the weekend to invite Indigenous people to donate their blood to the project.

Festival organisers used social media over the weekend to invite Indigenous people to donate their blood to the project. Source: Dark Mofo

Tasmania's Dark Mofo festival has cancelled a controversial art project involving the use of Indigenous people's blood after days of sustained criticism.

The project, by Spanish artist Santiago Sierra, was to involve the soaking of the Union Jack flag in blood from Indigenous and First Nations people.

Festival organisers used social media over the weekend to invite Indigenous people from countries colonised by the British to donate their blood to the project.

Many Indigenous Australians criticised the project online, especially over its use of First Nations blood by a non-Indigenous artist. 

Dark Mofo creative director Leigh Carmichael released a statement on Tuesday afternoon confirming the project would be shelved.

"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," he 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."
 
The festival initially doubled down on the project on Monday, with Mr Carmichael saying that "self-expression is a fundamental human right". 
 
In a letter posted by Dark Mofo prior to the cancellation, Sierra said the artwork was an "acknowledgement of the pain and destruction colonialism has caused First Nations peoples, devastating entire cultures and civilisations".
 
But not all Indigenous Australians were on board with the project, with some calling it "re-traumatising" and "white guilt art".
 
"A coloniser artist intending to produce art with the actual blood of colonised people is abusive, colonising and re-traumatising. The idea is disgusting and terrible and should not have been considered,” Noongar writer Claire Coleman tweeted.
 
Trawlwoolway pakana man Jamie Graham-Blair said Indigenous artists should have been given the money and platform to talk about the impact of colonisation instead.
 
"Indigenous bodies are not tools to be used by colonisers," he said in an Instagram story. "We are not props for your white guilt art."

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Published 23 March 2021 at 2:34pm, updated 23 March 2021 at 3:02pm
By Jarni Blakkarly