Kafala: Migrant Labor in the Arabian Peninsula

Curated by Clark Clark

Molly Crabapple, Slaves of Happiness Island, 2014
Nearly 7,000 migrant workers have died thus far in preparation for Qatar's 2022 FIFA World Cup, and the recent pandemic has only escalated the severity of the issue, leaving many more workers stranded, unpaid and neglected. This is just one example of how the Kafala sponsorship system is creating a migrant worker crisis in the Arabian Peninsula, which attracts workers from impoverished nations across Africa and Asia. Such workers regularly endure unconscionably long shifts, scorching heat, inhumane living conditions, and abuse. Employers regularly confiscate their passports, trade their visas to the highest bidder, and force them into crowded dormitories. This exhibition surveys art and creative activism that bring attention to this exploitative system, and calls for its reform.

A group of artists, writers, architects, and curators known as the Gulf Labor Artist Coalition organized protests to protect migrant workers' rights during the development of the New York University campus, The Guggenheim, and Louvre museums in Abu Dhabi. Jonas Bendiksen's photographic reportage documents migrant workers' lives in the UAE, Kuwait, and Qatar. Street portraits by Sudanese artist Khalid Al Baih and Indian photographer Aparna Jayakuma showcase guest workers' sartorial choices on their only day off. Illustrations by Ryan Inzana bring attention to the trafficking of women, and drawings by Molly Crabapple reveal the plight of the construction workers who have built up Saadiyat Island in the UAE.
  • artists:
    Khalid Al Baih and Aparna Jayakumar
    Todd Ayoung and Jelena Stojanović
    Hanna Barczyk
    Jonas Bendiksen
    Clark Clark
    Molly Crabapple
    Noah Fischer
    Mariam Ghani
    Matt Greco and Gregory Sholette
    Ryan Inzana
    Pedro Lasch
    Dread Scott
    Jaret Vadera
Clark Clark is an interdisciplinary artist, activist, and an assistant professor of art and graphic design from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He earned an MFA from Brooklyn College and a BFA from Webster University. His latest creative work includes photographing stray cats in the Middle East and painting vibrant geometrical abstract murals.

Installation Images

apexart’s program supporters past and present include the National Endowment for the Arts, Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, the Kettering Family Foundation, the Buhl Foundation, The Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Spencer Brownstone, the Kenneth A. Cowin Foundation, Epstein Teicher Philanthropies, The Greenwich Collection Ltd., William Talbott Hillman Foundation/Affirmation Arts Fund, the Fifth Floor Foundation, the Consulate General of Israel in New York, The Puffin Foundation, the Trust for Mutual Understanding, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, public funds from Creative Engagement, supported by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Governor and administered by LMCC, funds from NYSCA Electronic Media/Film in Partnership with Wave Farm: Media Arts Assistance Fund, with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, as well as the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.