Posted on September 30, 2014 | No Comments
We the undersigned members of Artsfex condemn an alarming worldwide trend in which violent protest silences artistic expression that some groups claim is offensive. People have every right to object to art they find objectionable but no right whatsoever to have that work censored. Free expression, including work that others may find shocking or offensive, is a right that must be defended vigorously.
We call on artists, arts venues, protestors and the police to work together as a matter of urgency, to stand up for artistic free expression and to ensure that the right to protest does not override the right to free expression. This means that every possible step is taken to ensure that the art work remains open for all to see, while protesters voices are heard.
We must prevent the repetition of recent ‘successful protests’ in which the artist is silenced by threats of violence towards the institution, the work or the artist him or herself, as we saw with Exhibit B in London, and The City, the hip-hop opera by the Jerusalem-based Incubator Theatre company, which was disrupted and consequently cancelled earlier this year in Edinburgh.
Greater clarity around policing of controversial arts events is an essential first step. In the United Kingdom there is nothing at present in Association of Chief Police Officers guidance relating to the particulars of policing cultural events, except in reference to football matches and music festivals.
Controversial art triggers debate – and in the case of Exhibit B there was a huge outpouring of feeling in opposition to the work. A contemporary institution should anticipate and provide for this. Detailed planning such as this is important if the arts venue is to cater for both the artwork and the debate it generates.
We are concerned that unless arts institutions prepare procedures to manage controversy, including to develop strategies for working with the police to control violence, our culture will suffer as a result and become less dynamic, relevant and responsive.
Article 19, freeDimensional, Freemuse, Index on Censorship, National Coalition Against Censorship (US), Vivarta
For further information, please call 0207 260 2660
ARTSFEX is an international civil society network actively concerned with the right of artists to freedom of expression as well as with issues relating to human rights and freedoms. ARTSFEX aims to promote, protect and defend artistic freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly, thought, and opinion in and across all art disciplines, globally. http://artsfex.org/
Posted on September 12, 2014 | No Comments
Words without Borders, in collaboration with freeDimensional and Verso Books, present a reading from WWB’s September issue, dedicated to writing exile. The reading aims to draw attention to the voices of writers forced from their homes, and will feature contributors and other special guests reading selections from the issue. To accompany the reading, freeDimensional will present an exhibition of work from contemporary visual artists who use creativity to fight injustice, and have experienced persecution and forced displacement as a result of their artistic practice.
Featured readers will include Israel Centeno, Kayhan Irani, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, and Nathalie Handal.
The event will also feature the work of visual artists Arahmaiani, Zunar, Owen Maseko, Chaw Ei Thein, Issa Nyaphaga and others. (Please note that artwork by Kardash Onnig will not be featured.)
Free and open to the public. Seating is limited–please RSVP
Israel Centeno (Caracas, 1958) has published thirteen books, mostly novels, but also short fiction and poetry. His books include the novels Calletania (Monte Ávila, 1992; Periférica, 2010), Exilio en Bowery (Troya, 1998; Nuevo Espacio, New Jersey, 2000), El Complot (Alfadil, 2002), and Bajo las hojas (Alfaguara, 2010). He has published two books of short stories: El rabo del diablo y otros cuentos (Eclepsidra, 1993) and Criaturas de la noche (Alfaguara, 2000, 2011). He currently lives, with his wife and two daughters, in Pittsburgh, where until 2013 he has been Exiled Writer in Residence in City of Asylum. Sampsonia Way has published his novel The Conspiracy in an English translation by Guillermo Parra.
Nathalie Handal is the author of numerous books, most recently Poet in Andalucía; Love and Strange Horses, winner of the 2011 Gold Medal Independent Publisher Book Award; and the W.W. Norton landmark anthology Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia & Beyond. Her plays have been produced at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Bush Theatre and Westminster Abbey, London. Her poetry, stories and literary travel articles have appeared in Vanity Fair, Guernica Magazine, the Guardian, the Nation, and other publications. Handal is a Lannan Foundation Fellow, winner of the Alejo Zuloaga Order in Literature 2011, and Honored Finalist for the Gift of Freedom Award, among other honors.
Kayhan Irani was born in Bombay, India and was raised on the mean streets of Queens, NYC. She is an Emmy award winner, a Fulbright Fellow and a Theater of the Oppressed trainer. Kayhan loves playing theater games.
Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo was born in Havana in 1971 and came to the US in March 2013. In Cuba he published the narratives Collage karaoke (2001), Empezar de cero (2001), Ipatrias (2005) and Mi nombre es William Saroyan (2006). His novel, Boring Home, was censored by the Letras Cubanas publishing house in 2009 and then published by Garamond (Paris, 2009) and El Nacional (Caracas, 2013). In Cuba he was an independent journalist and photographer. He is the webmaster of the blogs Lunes de Postrevolución and Boring Home Utopics and the founding editor of the magazine Voces. He contributes columns to Diario de Cuba (Madrid, Spain), Sampsonia Way (Pittsburgh, Penn.), and El Nacional (Caracas). In 2014 OR Books published his anthology of new Cuban narrative writing, Cuba in Splinters. He is a visiting fellow at Brown University for the current academic year. Restless Books will publish his book of photographs and essays, Abandoned Havana, this October.
Posted on July 20, 2014 | No Comments
17 July, 2014
We, cultural workers representing the majority of Palestinian performing art organizations, condemn the current Israeli attack and aggression on Gaza, and the indiscriminate killing and maiming of mainly civilians, among them many children and women.
As artists, the most powerful weapon we have is our ability to play, dream and imagine. The oppressive forces fear this weapon because as long as we are able to imagine another kind of reality, we have the power to pursue it – a free and just Palestine.
Israel is portraying the ongoing massacre in Gaza as a war between them and Hamas, as part of an obnoxious media campaign of turning the oppressed into the villains. This latest Israeli attack against Gaza is a crime that must be understood within the context of Israeli occupation and apartheid. For over six decades Palestinians have been systematically bereaved of their lands, their water and their freedom of movement. Settlements continue to be built, a wall is erected on occupied lands and Gaza has been under a suffocating blockade for over six years. These crimes must be condemned and acted upon immediately.
Among our companions are institutions that despite all the hardships continue to work in Gaza, using music, theatre and drama to comprehend, process, educate and mobilize. We stand with them and we ask you to do the same.
While governments are once again turning their backs, people around the world are raising their voices; taking to the streets and refusing to let the people of Gaza suffer in silence. We urge our colleagues, friends and partners not to stay silent and join us in our protest.
We call upon the world to put pressure on Israel to stop the blockade of Gaza.
We particularly call upon our fellow artists and cultural organizations to condemn the current aggressions against Gaza and the occupation of Palestine through petitions, protests and statements. Further to that, we urge you to act by supporting the Palestinian cultural and academic boycott of Israel (PACBI), thereby refusing to be complicit in the ongoing occupation and apartheid.
Together, we can turn hopelessness into determination and the forces of division into unity. It is within our power.
The undersigned, as founding members of the Palestinian Performing Art Programme (PPAN)
The Magnificat Association: www.magnificat.custodia.org
The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music: http://ncm.birzeit.edu/en
Al Kamandjati Association: www.alkamandjati.com
Theatre Day Productions: www.theatreday.org
Yes Theatre: www.yestheatre.org
The Palestine Circus School: www.palcircus.ps
The Freedom Theatre: www.thefreedomtheatre.org
Popular Art Center: http://www.popularartcentre.org/
El Funoun Dance Troupe: www.el-funoun.org
Ashtar Theatre: www.ashtar-theatre.org
Text reposted from TheFreedomTheatre.org
Posted on July 10, 2014 | No Comments
freeDimensional has posted the following blog as part of the World Policy Institute’s Arts-Policy Nexus
A theatre director is beaten and stabbed to death in front of his apartment. Another is shot to death in front of his wife and child. A filmmaker is kidnapped, his fingers cut off, and he’s left to bleed along the roadside. A radio DJ wakes to see his car in flames. A writer comes home to a house drenched in kerosene. A dancer is raped. A performance artist is kidnapped and beaten. A singer is imprisoned for years. A television comedian is kidnapped, threatened and told to never work again or be killed. These are real cases of artists whose artwork speaks truth to power and upholds social justice.
Shall we measure the work of these artists by the number of people in their audiences, how many workshops they have given or how much turnover their artistic output has generated, directly or indirectly, to the ‘evening economy’ of the city? Can these standardized indicators capture the depth or long term effect of thought-provoking artistic interventions in highly charged public and political contexts?
We are living in a period of measurement by economic indicators that define financial and legal support. The arts sector has continuously baulked at submitting its ‘intrinsic values’ to market measures, even if it has been tempting to play the risky game of citing urban regeneration and ‘creative’ economic development as benefits.
Today, we believe that public and private financial support ought to be awarded on the basis of objective criteria that confirm an (often elusive) idea of quality. The distribution of money must be accountable to taxpayers and donors. Subjective choice here is suspect, yet evaluation concepts have been offered, argued, and contested with no clear conclusion. Are we hell-bent on finding the perfect means of objectively assessing artistic quality, aesthetic delight, taste, and the impact of thought on human development?
Evaluating the impact of art and cultural activity is tough already. Throwing in human rights and free speech complicates the issue. Support for human rights defenders who confront governments, civil or religious groups is justified by international law. But how do we evaluate arts practices that raise awareness of universal rights or individual identities in situations where they are denied? Egyptian writer Alaa Al-Aswany writes, “My father told me his legacy to me was prison cells. My legacy to my son will be prison cells.” On what ‘impact measures’ are artists risking their lives?
More research is needed on alternative methods to analyse fields that resist economic-based measurement. We need to describe the real impact of supporting artists and cultural communicators whose politically or socially charged work places them into the crosshairs of repressive regimes intent on quashing perspectives differing from their own. If numbers-driven criteria can be supplanted by deeper, more long-term analysis, donors can feel confident supporting such work.
Some researchers are trying to explain what happens in circumstances where traditional quantity measures are not the most meaningful indicators. In arecent article, Dr. Patrycja Kaszynska dissects “the difficult relationship between cultural value, economics and the problem of measurement and evaluation.” She concludes that a major problem is the assumption that a natural hierarchy of disciplines places economics on top, as the final arbiter of all other disciplines: a hierarchy, which is not accepted by many, and is accompanied by “the fear of flattening all expressions of value into a single register.”
Regarding human rights, Johannes Thoolen adds, “ The first problem of assessment is that common to all human rights advocacy work, namely the difficulty of measuring and establishing a causal link between a particular intervention and an outcome…. assessing advocacy for individual cases is the least developed.”
Clearly, the current means of valuing art that upholds social justice is inadequate. There must be a more comprehensive method that brings together different disciplines as well as value systems and objectives.
freeDimensional (fD) is one of a very few NGOs and non-profit associations working at the intersection of arts and human rights. Since 2006, fD has supported artists and culture workers whose artistic work presents alternatives, challenges the status quo, a government line, or fundamentalist views. These cultural communicators may be threatened, their economic livelihood denied; they and their families can be physically harmed, imprisoned, or worse. fD recognizes them as doing the work of human rights defenders, identifies shelters in artists residencies, and develops artists’ safety networks in high risk regions.
But non-profits such as fD are mired in the current evaluation stalemate, pressed by funders to demonstrate impact in an interdisciplinary area comprising sectors bogged down by lack of adequate evaluation methodologies.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. At the upcoming International Conference on Cultural Policy Research (ICCPR) in Hildesheim, Germany, fD will call out to universities and researchers interested in tackling these issues, identifying best practices and exploring alternative methods to describe the impact of supporting artists whose work defends human rights and social justice.
The challenge is about measuring the impact of work that influences thought, poses a question to engrained perspectives, and may take years or even generations to reach a concrete tipping point. Rebecca Solnit finds, “many now do not even hope for a better society, but they recognize it when they encounter it, and that discovery shines out even through the namelessness of their experience.”
Let’s work across disciplines – cultural workers, human rights workers, universities, and researchers – to share information, build upon lessons learned, and ultimately find ways to measure impact and convince potential legal and financial supporters. It is important to uncover the ripple effects of these artists’ courageous behaviour and in doing so, learn how to better support, defend, and protect those who undertake it, at great risk to their own safety.
Mary Ann DeVlieg
Posted on July 7, 2014 | 2 Comments
If you would like to send support letters to the Moroccan musician, Mouad Belghouate (aka El Haqed), please note:
- keep messages short with simple message wishing El Haqed well and that he will soon be free.
- no political or religious comment or images ( tourist cards are appreciated….)
- Give return address/email.
Prison local Oukacha
20 580 Casablanca, Morocco
Posted on July 7, 2014 | No Comments
Open Letter to the Moroccan Minister of Justice and Liberties El Mustapha Ramid on the Four-month Sentence Against Musician Mouad Belghouate (aka El Haqed)
7 July 2014
Mr El Mustapha Ramid
Minister of Justice and Liberties
Ministère de la Justice et des libertés Place El Mamounia – BP 1015
Fax:+212 537 73 47 25
We the undersigned organisations committed to the defence of the rights to freedom of expression, culture and the arts, condemn the four-month sentence served against musician Mouad Belghouate (aka El Haqed) following a trial that fell short of international standards. We are concerned that the sentence has been given in retribution for his involvement in Morocco’s pro-democracy movement, and specifically his condemnation of corruption and police violence through his music.
Convicted of assaulting police officers during an incident in Casablanca on 18 May 2014, evidence including testimonies of witnesses to the incident were not accepted by the court. This led defence lawyers to withdraw from the proceedings calling them “unjust” and “unfair”.
This is the third incident since 2011 where Belghouate has been imprisoned following trials that have been condemned as highly flawed. Notably in May 2012 he was imprisoned for 12 months for insulting police in a song and its accompanying video, a charge that clearly violated his rights to freedom of expression.
Belghouate has been closely engaged with the 20th February democracy movement, and he has been openly critical of corruption in Morocco and accused police of brutality in his lyrics, leading to concerns that these are the source of the accusations against him, concerns that are heightened by trial irregularities.
Morocco has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which includes the rights to freedom of expression and fair trial. We therefore call on the Moroccan authorities to immediately release Mouad Belghouate and to ensure that any appeal be carried out fairly and include all evidence and witnesses relevant to the case.
European Council of Artists
Index on Censorship
Institute for Freedom of Expression, Turkey
Observatoire de la liberté de creation, France
President of National Human Rights Council Mr. Driss El Yazmi
Minister of Culture, Mr Mohamed Amine Sbihi
Association Marocaine des Droits Humains (AMDH), Mr. Ahmed El Haij (President)
Posted on June 12, 2014 | No Comments
The Central America Regional Forum on Arts, Culture and Human Rights takes place June 18-20 – Tegucigalpa, Honduras
freeDimensional (www.freedimensional.org), Colectivo Hormiga (http://colectivohormiga.com) HIVOS (www.hivos.nl) are pleased to announce the launch of the Central American Regional Forum on Arts, Culture and Human Rights, June 18-20 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
The Forum is the first-ever three-day participatory forum aiming to support, unite and inspire the arts & culture and human rights sectors in Central America to collaborate, uphold freedom of expression as a basic human right and acknowledge artists and culture workers as primary defenders of it. Approximately 50 Central American cultural and human rights organizations will participate.
Increasing numbers of artists and culture workers are using their artistic expression to support human rights and social justice objectives for their communities. In return they can face physical violence, imprisonment or even death. It is crucial that human rights, free speech and culture organizations work together to ensure their safety and the continuation of the important work they do for society.
The Regional Forum will trace the history of socially and politically engaged artistic practice in Central America, identify common issues and experiences, develop a collective vision of the future and lead to the establishment of a regional platform for exchange and collaboration between artists and culture workers working towards transformative societal change.
The Regional Forum is guided by freeDimensional, an internationally networked organization, that assists artists, culture workers and communicators at risk by brokering resources and services, linking them to art spaces that can provide temporary safe haven and by facilitating the development of safety and support networks in regions around the world.
Based in Tegucigalpa, Colectivo Hormiga is a group of five organizations committed to art, linked to the community and dedicated to the enhancement of the old Casa Central Penitentiary of Honduras as an open and culturally diverse space.
HIVOS is an international development organization based in the Netherlands guided by humanist values. Working in collaboration with local civil society organizations in developing countries, Hivos aims to contribute to a free, fair and sustainable world.
The Forum is supported by Actors for Change (http://central-america.hivos.org/actors-change), a program funded by SIDA (http://www.sida.se) and implemented by Hivos throughout Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Actors for Change include independent media, journalists, artists, cultural activists, and human rights defenders and aims to build a collective strategy that includes enhancing free expression, capacity building, and safety and protection.
Posted on June 9, 2014 | No Comments
Senegal exhibition, part of the Dak’Art Biennale, closed due to pressure from extremist Islamic groups.
By: Anny Shaw
The Senegalese government has shut down one of the first exhibitions in Africa to focus on homosexuality on the continent. The move comes several weeks after an attack on the Dakar gallery by Muslim fundamentalists, says the French-Algerian artist Kader Attia. “Precarious Imaging: Visibility and Media Surrounding African Queerness” opened at Raw Material Company on 11 May, but a day later, the non-profit art centre was vandalised and the building damaged, according to Attia, whose video about the lives of transsexuals in Algiers and Mumbai was included in the show. No one was hurt in the attack.
Following pressure from extremist Islamic organisations, the exhibition, which was part of the informal programme for Dak’Art 2014, the 11th Biennale of Contemporary African Art (9 May-8 June), was cancelled on 31 May. According to the news service Times24.info, the Senegalese government also ordered the suspension of all exhibitions in the biennial that refer to homosexuality. Raw Material Space remains closed, according to a spokeswoman for the biennial, who could not confirm if any further exhibitions had been shut down.
“Senegal is well-known for its peaceful and moderated Islam. Such an aggressive attack is absolutely unexpected, as is the government’s decision to shut down all the exhibitions in the biennial that deal with homosexuality,” Attia says. “It is highly concerning that a country that has always been protected from fundamentalism is now opening the door through an official path.”
The aim of the “Precarious Imaging” exhibition, which was co-organsied by Koyo Kouoh, the artistic director at Raw Material Company, and the independent curator Ato Malinda, was to shed light on a persecuted African minority. Homosexuality is illegal in Senegal, as it is in 37 other African countries, according to Amnesty International. Malinda told The Art Newspaper in April that a leading academic had advised the gallery against holding the exhibition. “The show will cause controversy, but we will not censor ourselves,” Malinda said at the time.
Alongside Attia’s video, the exhibition featured photographs of gay men from Lagos by the Nigerian artist Andrew Esiebo; a photographic series of black lesbian and transgender women by the South African activist and photographer Zanele Muholi; a video of Egyptian women smoking by the Egyptian-American artist Amanda Kerdahi M.; and works from Jim Chuchu’s “Pagan” series. Raw Material Company could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.
Text and image reposted from TheArtNewspaper.com
Photo credit: Nigerian photographer Andrew Esiebo’s ongoing series “Who We Are” portrays gay men from Lagos
Posted on June 5, 2014 | No Comments
China Loses by Forgetting about Tiananmen Square
by: Ai Weiwei
In the last month, in two separate cities, I was involved in events related to the rewriting of the history of Chinese contemporary art. In Shanghai, two of my works, “Stool” and “Sunflower Seeds,” were included in an exhibition commemorating the 15th year of the Chinese Contemporary Art Award. A half-hour before the show opened, local officials had my name erased from the exhibition’s wall text and barred the artworks from being displayed.
A few weeks later in Beijing, under similar pressure, the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art excised my name from publicity information about an upcoming show honoring my late friend Hans van Dijk, with whom I had founded one of the first experimental art spaces in China. I decided to withdraw all my pieces from the exhibition in protest.
In both cases, the works in question were deemed uncontroversial in themselves. The point was to remove any reference to me and my work to keep me out of the public eye in the run-up to the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
My lawyer and friend Pu Zhiqiang has suffered worse: He and four others were recently detained for discussing Tiananmen – where he’d been one of the student protesters – in a private gathering.
Pu Zhiqiang is one of the few people in this country who insists on not having his history completely erased. I, too, was censored not for the content of my work, but because I am a person who insists on the facts, who wants an admission of history and who has constantly voiced these concerns on the Internet. These are all sins in China today – especially now, with this anniversary upon us.
Modern China’s forgetfulness did not start or end with Tiananmen. Even before the summer of 1989, dozens of darker, crueler incidents lay hidden in Chinese history. Today’s leaders cannot acknowledge their stated ideology before 1949, the principles that helped the Communists gain power over the Nationalist government: establishing a democratic and law-abiding society, ending the one-party system and having an independent judiciary. In 1989, the students in Tiananmen Square asked for those same things. Since then, they’ve become unmentionable.
During Chairman Mao’s lifetime, he started dozens of political movements, none of which have been re-examined by the party in a forthright way. Huge topics such as the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward lack any accepted accounting.
Because there is no discussion of these events, Chinese still have little understanding of their consequences. Censorship has in effect neutered society, transforming it into a damaged, irrational and purposeless creature.
In the West, there are those who think that a new group of leaders can somehow bring change to China – that “reformers” can eventually outweigh the “hardliners” within the party. Yet while China has progressed in many ways since 1989, the system has not. How can it, when those who run things refuse to analyze or discuss the morality of past decisions? How can a government that alters or even completely erases history, acknowledge its faults and adjust its actions in the future? We Chinese are not blameless either. While Chinese society has undergone some of the most extreme changes in human history in the last 25 years, in the realm of values, very little has changed. Most of us are first and foremost concerned with our day-to-day needs and ambitions – jobs, education, apartments – and won’t exert much effort or sacrifice to achieve anything beyond that.
China has chosen to forget, or to allow forgetting – an attitude the West will find hard to understand. This provides China a way to liberate itself from heavy self-criticism, as well as a heavier moral burden. More important, it frees Chinese from responsibility for their actions and acquiescence.
If China has pulled off an economic miracle since 1989, this self-imposed amnesia is also a sort of Chinese miracle. The mindset will not change until Chinese themselves understand that the lack of accurate information about their own past injures their well-being just as much as the polluted air or corruption.
How long can China continue on this forgetful path? With the Internet and globalization exposing citizens to truths that are self-evident elsewhere in the world, the country is facing an internal crisis of credibility. The loss of trust and moral common ground between individuals and the state is the most dangerous issue facing the regime today. China cannot move forward unless it first confronts this problem – rather than suppressing it like so much else in our history.
Ai Weiwei is a Beijing-based artist and sociocultural critic.
Text reposted from Newsday.com
Posted on May 9, 2014 | No Comments
In 1993, I was confronted by an improbable and inextricable problem. A group of people claiming to be pious Muslims “secured” 2 of my works (an installation and a painting) part of a solo exhibition titled “Sex, Religion & Coca -Cola”. They were adamant that I had committed blasphemy against Islam, because in my installation a copy of the Koran was presented next to a pack of condoms. While in the painting there were Arabic letters adjacent to the Lingga-Yoni, which was a picture of a phallus and a vagina. Their interpretation of the visualization or these works was so negative that they were compelled to without any hesitation, “secure” the works.
I was taken aback upon finding my works had disappeared from the exhibition space and hearing the explanation above from the owner of the space. I then asked him to organize a discussion because in my view the issue at hand was a difference of interpretation, and this needed to be talked about and discussed so that it would be clear for various parties such as activists, artists, culture experts, and spiritualists, as well as me, and the objecting party.
In the beginning the discussion proceeded smoothly although in the end it became rather tense because the people who had “secured” my works were adamant with their interpretation and considered me guilty and deserving of punishment! This resulted in a threat to me: that drinking my blood, was explicitly halal, allowed by law!
I then consulted several senior artists who all advised me to practice self-preservation because the meeting had proven that this Islamist group could not be expected to practice the common sense of rational thinking. This is the condition of life in this country that is considered to be a democracy.
So with unfocussed and confused feelings I first travelled to Solo where I stayed for more or less 6 months, until I received an invitation for a residency in Perth, Australia, where I stayed for a year. Eventually, I was able to return to my country, but it would not be last time that my views expressed through my artistic practice would result in the threatening of my safety and force me underground.
Organizations like freeDimensional provide crucial support to artists and culture workers who find themselves in situations like mine. Because I have experienced displacement and exile personally, I know the weight and significance of this work and support fD as an advisor and advocate. To ensure that artists can continue to create freely, and spark meaningful and necessary conversations in our society, please make your contribution to fD today.keep looking »