They Built for Eternity


They Built for Eternity

September 13- December 13, 2019
Opening Reception: September 13, 7-9 pm
at the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre

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 video, the installed work of film project Behind the 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 Arafath (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.

Exhibition Public Programs at Workers Arts and Heritage Centre

Film Screenings:
Friday, September 27 from 7-9pm – Birha (Absence), director Ekta Mittal from the film project Behind the Tin Sheets
Friday, October 25 from 7-9pm – Taste of Cement, director Ziad Kalthoum

Performance: Reports from an Export Processing Zone by Bojana Videkanic will take place on Sept 13 during the opening reception and before the screenings on Sept 27 and Oct 25 starting at 4 pm.

Artist Residency: Birender Yadav (dates to be determined)

For more information, contact:
Hitoko Okada, Interim Program Coordinator at or (905) 522-3003 ex. 29

Workers Arts & Heritage Centre

51 Stuart Street | Hamilton, Ontario | (905) 522-3003
Open Wednesday to Saturday, 10 am – 4 pm
Facebook: WorkersArtsandHeritageCentre
Twitter: @WAHC
The Workers Arts & Heritage Centre is a fully accessible building.

SAVAC (South Asian Visual Arts Centre)

401 Richmond Street West (Suite 450) | Toronto, Ontario | (416) 542-1661
Open Monday to Thursday, 10am – 5pm
Facebook: @southasianvisualartscentre
Twitter: @SAVAC_
Instagram: @SAVAC_

Image credit (top): Still from Presence (17 mins, video, 2012) from Behind the Tin Sheets

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.

SAVAC acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Council.