They Built for Eternity

September 13- December 13, 2019
Workers Arts and Heritage Centre 51 Stuart Street, Hamilton, ON

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.

Opening Reception: 13 September 2019 from 7-9pm

Exhibition Public Programs at Workers Arts and Heritage Centre
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 (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
Twitter: @WAHC
Facebook: WorkersArtsandHeritageCentre
The Workers Arts & Heritage Centre is a fully accessible building.

SAVAC (South Asian Visual Arts Centre)
401 Richmond Street West (Suite 450) | Toronto, Ontario | 1 (416) 542-1661
Open Monday to Thursday, 10am – 5pm or by appointment

Facebook: @southasianvisualartscentre
Twitter: @SAVAC
Instagram: @SAVAC_

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. 

Suite 450
401 Richmond St. W.
Toronto, ON M5V 3A8

1 (416) 542-1661

Monday - Thursday
10am - 5pm
or by appointment


Stay up to date about upcoming submission deadlines, workshops,
exhibitions, and events at SAVAC.

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