If you visit Contrasts Gallery on Jiangxi Lu now, you will find lots of migrant workers have actually made it their temporary home, but that is not some avant garde artist doing his latest exhibition. Here’s a note from reader Arjen van der Schoot who loaned one of his paintings to the exhibition that is currently being held hostage by the workers:
Contrasts Gallery on Jiangxi Road opposite Hamilton House over a disputed RMB 1 million renovation at the gallery. About 20 workers have squatted in the gallery for nearly a month now, desperate to go home for Chinese new year with money they claim they are owed. The workers are sleeping on makeshift beds on the floor and the walls are lined with mounds of rubbish, mostly empty lunch boxes. Electricity has been cut off leaving most of the gallery submerged in icy cold darkness. The workers are also keeping about 25 works by well-known artist Qian Gang hostage. The 25 works represent two years worth of work, and Mr. Qian is anxious to have the issue resolved and his paintings, some of which are on loan from private collectors, returned. The gallery’s staff is taking turns to keep an eye on the workers.
I have wished someone would have written about this invasion and trespassing the gallery. We do not have a contract with the migrant workers so we do not owe the migrant workers’ salary. If the salary is owed, it is wed by the contractor who employed these workers.
The reality is that there’s a dispute of the contractual sum which the overall amount could buy several apartments. We thereby want this to be settled legally going to court having an arbitration but the contractor refused to go to court. So they therefore employed these workers to invade the gallery and to live there so to disrupt business and blackmail you to comply to their terms. Everyday there were 2 shift of workers who were paid 200rmb each shift per worker, the contractor send them food and cigarettes to ensure they continue to stay at the gallery to blackmail. Migrant workers are usually very timid- they do not want to get into troubles, but these workers are fearless being trained to speak in a certain way as if they are the abused workers. But they are not true abused workers who only want their pay- for they would not leave even though they would offered to just pay their salary- they want the full disputed contract sum.
We are trapped in this situation- police was either intimidated by the workers who trespassed gallery or they are being bought to ignore us. I was told there’s law which give special protection to the migrant workers and therefore the contractors took advantage of this and use the migrant workers to attack and invade and trespassing the gallery. They have stop us from working and had refused to allow the artist to collect his works. Are we supposedly to pay for their electricity when they trespassed in our space and live there?
Is there a legal structure to protect us? i can tell you up till today the answer is NO.
The question is am i willing to be blackmailed into paying an obscene amount when i believe that i’d been taken for a ride? And to allow them to know that we will bend when they attack and invade my gallery?
I’m sure my manager wants to settle this and pay them off.
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