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They Built for Eternity

September 13 - December 13

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Opening Reception: September 13, 7-9 pm

The Workers Arts and Heritage Centre (WAHC) and SAVAC (South Asian Visual Arts Centre) present They Built for Eternity*, a group exhibition that shares the stories of migrant construction workers and laments the human cost of labour in the global economy. Borrowed from a 2014 poster by Maryam Monolisa Gharavi for Gulf Labor Coalition (US), the exhibition title – They built for eternity – alludes to both the false longevity of grand construction projects and the ways that manual labourers are slowly worked to the ground. Through print work, performance, audio, film and installation, the exhibition highlights critiques of global building projects against the backdrop of Hamilton’s rich history of labour activism.

They built for eternity places a spotlight on the internal and international migration of construction workers across South Asia and the Gulf. The exhibition opens with facts, with raw visualizations of data by Who Builds Your Architecture? (USA/UK) and the Gulf Labor Coalition (US) that ask hard questions about the ethics of building large global (arts) institutions. Through recorded stories, the installed work of artist collective Behind Tin Sheets (India) documents how migrant workers themselves visualize the impact of the construction industry on their own destinies. In a commissioned work, researcher Yasser Arafat (India) delves into the affective and emotional resonances of labour migration on both the workers and their families through Dubaipathu, a genre of music that emerged in the 1970s from the migrant flows between Kerala and Dubai. Through a durational performance, artist Bojana Videkanic (Canada) investigates the workings of Export Processing Zones (industrial zones in Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa), sites where imported materials undergo processing by a precarious migrant workforce.

The exhibition is accompanied by public programming; two film screenings and an artist residency. The film Birha (2019) serves as an intimate meditation on the complexities and nuances of separation, loss, and desire, while the experimental documentary Taste of Cement (2017) observes the lives of Syrian construction workers atop Beirut’s skyscrapers. Artist-in-residence Birender Yadav (India) addresses issues of commerce and trade through building materials. During his time in Hamilton, he will conduct research on the past and present of the city’s labour industry.

The global movement of migrant labour in service of capital has been shaped by waves of imperialism, colonialism, and capitalism. It is no surprise that the Canadian state and its corporations – marshalling slavery, indentureship, and forced labour – routinely use workers from elsewhere to build and sustain its own material foundations. Against this backdrop, we are compelled to reckon with the urgency for global labour justice. They built for eternity is a reminder to listen to the inconvenient truths behind contemporary extraction and development projects, both here and abroad.

*This exhibition was originally conceptualized by SAVAC’s former Artistic Director Nahed Mansour in 2017. Current WAHC and SAVAC staff developed the original concept and artist list to shape the exhibition.

Free Public Programs! 
2 film screenings, artist residency and a performance art piece

Friday, September 27: Birha (Absence), director Ekta Mittal of Behind the Tin Sheets Collective

Friday, October 25: Taste of Cement, director Ziad Kalthoum

Friday, September 13, 4-8:30 pm/Friday, September 27 and Friday October 25, 4-7 pm: Reports from an Export Processing Zone performance by Bojana Videkanic.

Artist Residency: Birender Yadav (check back for more info soon!)

For more information, contact:
Tara Bursey, Program Coordinator at tara@wahc-museum.ca or (905) 522-3003 ex. 29

SAVAC (South Asian Visual Arts Centre)

Suite 450- 401 Richmond Street West
Toronto ON M5V 3A8 Canada
1 (416) 542-1661
Office Hours: Monday to Thursday, 10am – 4pm
Facebook: @southasianvisualartscentre
Twitter: @SAVAC
Instagram: @SAVAC_

The Workers Arts & Heritage Centre is a fully accessible building.

Image credit (top): Live/Work, SITU Research from the 52 Weeks Poster series by Gulf Labor Coalition

WAHC acknowledges the Canada Council for the Arts for its support of the Main Gallery exhibition program, as well as the Ontario Arts Council, the City of Hamilton and the Province of Ontario for its on-going support.

51 Stuart Street, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada L8L 1B5       905.522.3003       Public Hours: Wed to SAT > 10am—4pm