20 Oct


The Louvre is shortly to open a new facility in Abu Dhabi, designed by Jean Nouvel and looking like some kind of Logan’s Run shit that nobody who knew anything about art would ever want to show art in, as is usual for 21st century art silos. Talk about sterile. An outpost of the Guggenheim is also in progress, which will probably be equally austere, inhumane, architect-cool and ghastly. Having realised that they probably need some art or something– even if most of the walls are wonky or fifty meters from floor level– the gold-plated Arabic Louvre flagship store just announced the loan of 300 art works from French institutions. So let’s explore beautiful Abu Dhabi as it uses up the Earth’s precious resources to water lawns in the desert, let’s check out some of the art works being pimped out by the French to the jolly Emirs, and on the way we can have a wee think about what made the land of liberté, égalité, fraternité lose their damn minds and decide to have a gigantic art baby with the United Arab Emirates.


Leonardo da Vinci, ‘La Belle Ferronière’, 1495–99.

La Belle Ferronière will need to cover up that whorish hair and stop making insolent eye contact if she doesn’t want a taste of the whip.

I mean, does her husband, father or brother even know she’s out? According to Human Rights Watch and probably anybody else with eyes, ears and a rudimentary sense of right and wrong, the way Sharia is applied in the UAE systematically discriminates against women. Rape victims can face prison sentences of a year or more. Yes, you read that right. Victims of rape are prosecuted. Being raped is an “extramarital relation”, which is illegal. Women can’t marry without permission from a male guardian. It is illegal for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man; this is considered “fornication” and therefore worthy of corporal punishment. Kissing in public is also against the law, and can lead to deportation if you’re lucky enough to be a foreigner. Worse if you’re not. In the UAE, flogging (between 80 and 200 lashes) and stoning to death are legal punishments for offences including adultery, premarital sex and prostitution. Not just in theory, either; these barbaric punishments are regularly carried out. The UAE refuses to ratify the UN Convention on the elimination of torture.

Bonus fun fact: Apostasy (renouncing or denying religion, i.e. Islam) carries the death penalty too! Renouncing other religions is probably fine because only one religion is allowed anyway. Don’t worry, though; even if you’re a devout follower of Islam there are still many great opportunities for you to be abused, executed or unjustifiably detained in the UAE!


Edouard Manet, ‘The Fife Player’, 1866.

Lucky he’s not been caught playing the pink flute, because homosexuality is illegal in the UAE and it can be punished by death.

By stoning, ideally, but then that’s true of most crimes. Sodomy carries a jail term of up to fourteen years. Dubai’s penal code strangely specifies that consensual sodomy is punishable by a sentence of up to ten years. I couldn’t find out the punishment for nonconsensual sodomy (that is, anal rape), but I’m going to assume it doesn’t work out in favour of the victim since we already know that female rape victims can be imprisoned for being sexually violated.


Henri Matisse, ‘Still Life with Magnolia’, 1941.

Confine your criticism to the art, OK, peasant?

People from the UAE are imprisoned and tortured if they go too far (i.e. virtually anywhere) in their criticism of the country’s unelected rulers. Foreigners can have their residency rights revoked. Activist and blogger Ahmed Abdul Khaleq was relatively lucky to be merely expelled unlawfully from his own country. Arbitrary arrest and detention are common.


Claude Monet, ‘The Saint-Lazare Station’, 1877.

Everything else you want is wrong.

Trade unions, collective bargaining, the right to strike, and anti-discrimination laws are among the many other things that the government of the UAE doesn’t allow. Conveniently, criticising the royal family and government (which are interchangeable) is also banned. Complaints don’t exist, therefore nothing is wrong. Easy. In 2013 somebody filmed a senior UAE official openly beating a migrant worker in the street, then put the video on YouTube. The police arrested the man who filmed the video in addition to the man who committed the assault. As far as I know they didn’t arrest the man who was beaten up, but I wouldn’t put it past them.

Thousands of migrant workers are kept in conditions that amount to slavery. They often pay so-called “recruitment fees” for the privilege, even. The article I just linked to, by the way, is subject to a legal complaint by Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), so I suggest you read it while you can before it goes into the memory hole. Can you guess what many of these slaves have been slaving away at in Abu Dhabi? That’s right, they’re building the new Louvre and Guggenheim museums.


Image ©2011 by Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch.

Things the United Arab Emirates has: money, oil, greed. Things the art world has: art, greed. Things neither the art world nor the UAE have: morals, a grasp of the 21st century global consensus on how people should behave towards one another. The result is sweet, sinful extranational relations where everybody gets fucked apart from a few ultra rich people. Welcome to sunny Abu Dhabi, apostate foreigner sluts.


  1. stevemessam 20/10/2014 at 11:57 AM #

    Forgive my ignorance, but aren’t state (publicly) funded galleries supposed to be a bit cash-strapped at the mo?

    • Alistair 20/10/2014 at 1:56 PM #

      In France they claim to be, although the Louvre (like virtually all public museums in mainland Europe) charges a considerable entrance fee as well so they’ve less excuse for pleading poverty than in the UK where they’re mostly free to the public who pay for them through their taxes. Unfortunately I don’t think major art insititutions need an excuse to let their morals slide, they do it voluntarily all the time. See also Tate and BP, for example.
      I daresay most of the money for the UAE human rights violation annexe of the Louvre is coming from the UAE itself, meanwhile pilfering art works that technically belong to the French nation, with the connivance of the French authorities.

  2. Alistair 10/11/2014 at 12:12 PM #

    ‘Protests target Guggenheim over alleged Abu Dhabi labour violations’


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