New York, NY, May 13, 2013—We believe arts and cultural expression is a necessary and extraordinary tool for social change. This month, we launch our new Global Arts Fund with the goal to support, showcase, and connect impactful art by LGBTQI people and organizations with limited access to resources, who use art as a tool for social transformation. In an endeavor to support the arts across mediums and disciplines, the fund will consider submissions in all artistic expressions: video, film, poetry, fictional prose, photography, painting, performance, dance, theater, music and any interdisciplinary expressions.
Support for people using creativity to fight injustice
Over the past year, freeDimensional has been further developing its Creative Resistance Fund as a conduit by which likeminded partners and funders can support individuals using creativity to fight injustice. A 2012 grant from the Cultures of Resistance Network enables freeDimensional’s participation and technical support to the Freemuse event, a World Conference on Artistic Freedom of Expression. In particular, this support will enable two exiled artists to attend the Conference in Oslo by covering their travel costs. Freemuse advocates and defends freedom of expression for musicians and composers. Initiating the first ever World Conference on Artistic Freedom of Expression and launching a global network, artsfex, for the protection of artistic freedom, Freemuse aims to set a new agenda for artists’ rights worldwide.
On July 23, 2011, Detroit lost an award-winning, multi-faceted artist: singer-songwriter, poet, writer, performer, musician, community activist and teacher David Blair. While Blair performed all over the world and has friends on almost every continent, Detroit was his home. As Metro Times writer Travis Wright wrote, “ He loved this city and that love was reciprocated. They had claimed each other more than a decade ago. “
The Detroit community recognizes how much he created in its name, and will honor his legacy with the First Annual Blair’s Crowded House, an homage to the Crowded House show Blair created and hosted yearly in an effort to expose the Detroit community to a variety of its homegrown artists. “Crowded House originated from Blair’s incredible ability to bring artists from many different backgrounds together in the interests of building community and advancing social justice,” said Invincible, a Detroit hip-hop artist, activist, and the event’s co-organizer. “Our goal is to organize this event every year around Blair’s birthday.” Blair’s Crowded House will include such acts as The Boyfriends, Alison Lewis, Monica Blaire, Jamaal Versiz May, Airea Dee Matthews, Khary Kimani Turner, Mike E, and Invincible. A gallery view of video footage and photography of his performances and travels, and a writing workshop to give those who were inspired by him the space to create their own tributes will also commence. All proceeds from the event will go toward the David Blair Memorial, a fund created to assist Detroit artists with their needs in times of crisis. Learn more about the event here.
The Creative Resistance Fund has given its advice and solidarity for the creation of the David Blair Memorial Fund.
For the last 10 years the government of Malaysia has been seeking to silence one of the more popular political cartoonists in Kuala Lumpur: Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, better known as Zunar. In the past two years he has been arrested and detained, his office has been raided, his cartoons books have been seized, and his publishers and editors have been prevented from publishing his cartoons. Zunar recently took the government to court appealing last year’s decision to ban his books. On 14 July 2011, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur decided to uphold last year’s banning of his political cartoon books and dismissed his appeal.
“Perak Darul Kartun” and “1 Funny Malaysia”, which featured more than 150 individual cartoons, were initially banned by the Malaysian government in June of 2010 under Section 7 of the Printing Presses and Publications Act of 1984. Without elaborating, the judge held, “their contents are not suitable and are detrimental to public order”. Cartoon Rights Network International (CRNI) believes nothing could be further from the truth. These two books focus the public’s attention on important political and social issues such as conspiracies against the former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and the murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu and the ‘submarine scandal’ involving allegations of a kick-back scheme for government’s purchase of a submarine that couldn’t dive. During a telephone interview with Mr. Zunar, he told CRNI, “Suppression of speech is a much graver threat to public order than one cartoonistís well-informed opinions”. Cartoonists Rights Network International deplores the decision of High Court Judge Rohana Yusof who agreed with the governmentís argument that the cartoons would lead to public disorder. As influential as Zunar’s work is in shaping Malaysian pubic opinion, there is no evidence that the cartoons would lead to public disorder. In so ruling, the court has furthermore ignored freedom of expression rights as provided by the Malaysian Federal Constitution. CRNI urges the Malaysian government and the Malaysian Court to respect the rights of free speech for all Malaysian citizens and reverse its July 14 decision.
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI) is a free speech and human rights NGO protecting and monitoring editorial cartoonists around the world who find themselves in trouble because of their influential cartoons.
Dr Robert Russell
20th July 2011
The Khami Prison outside Bulawayo hosted a competitive Arts Festival on 6 July 2010. The participants were drawn from all the prison complex units. The festival was organised by Amakhosi Theatre in collaboration with Khami Prison. Amakhosi has been running workshops with the inmates for the past three years and the project seeks to provide recreation, entertainment and life skills. A total of 16 groups performed theatre, music, poetry and dance. There was also an exhibition of knitwear and wood craft. The festival had a total audience of 700 inmates of which about 160 performed. William Nyandoro of the Arts Council in Bulawayo and Josh Nyapimbi (BAF) and 2 prison officers adjudicated the performances. Cont Mhlanga of Amakhosi Theatre was the guest speaker. The theme of the festival was the ‘Zimbabwe’s Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act’ (IEEA), which came into force in March 2011. The IEEA seeks to enforce that local Zimbabweans are entitled to own 51 percent ownership in all foreign-owned companies. The majority of performances, particularly poetry and music were aesthetically good (presumably due to training by Amakhosi and a huge population of artists at Khami prison), however, the absence of performances that explored and challenged negative implications of the IEEA and the horrendous prison conditions and gross rights violations in prison was discomforting though expected given that there is a censorship office at Khami prison. The value of the art in prison cannot be overemphasised. However, there is need to promote the status of the artist in prison beyond training. There is an apparent need for advocacy and lobbying on the status of the artist in prison as well. The lobbying would need to also target UNESCO because the Recommendation concerning the Status of the Artist does not specifically provide for the artist in prison. The artist in prison has particular needs, which require tailored interventions.
Reprinted from the Nhimbe Trust.
Launched in 2007, the Freedom to Create Prize is a celebration of the courage and creativity of artists, and the positive influence of their work to promote social justice and inspire the human spirit. The Prize is open to all forms of art, in any creative field and any individual or group of any gender, religion or nationality. In 2011, a total prize fund of US$100,000 will be awarded to the winning artists and their nominated advocacy organisations to further the cause their artwork has highlighted. The Prize has two categories: the Main Prize, open to individuals or artistic groups in all creative fields over the age of 16 and the Imprisoned Artist Prize, focusing on artists who are currently imprisoned for their artwork. The 2011 Freedom to Create Prize is now open for entries via our website until 30 July 2011 (deadline extended). Please see here for further information on how to enter the prize.
I few weeks ago, the Rory Peck Trust asked freeDimensional to host a documentary filmmaker from a neighboring country. The filmmaker’s work as a freelance journalist had placed him in harms way and together our organizations took steps to assure his safety. As freeDimensional transitions to become the Creative Resistance Fund, we are encouraging our art space partners to apply for funding to do the critical hosting work we have designed and road-tested together. The Atelier Moustapha Dime (named after a famous Senegalese sculptor and managed by one of his former students) offered one of its bedrooms to the filmmaker. And, this is not the first time that a culture worker in distress has found refuge at Atelier Moustapha Dime.
freeDimensional learned about another community art space in Sao Mateus, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The human rights organization Conectas explained that this space, run by a group of local youth, hosts English lessons, capoeira classes and street painting workshops. When a local women’s rights initiative and meeting place lost its funding, the youth invited them to have their meetings in the art space.
freeDimensional & the Creative Resistance Fund is proud to support both these critical hosting initiatives in Senegal and Brazil.
A few weeks ago the freeDimensional site carried a post entitled February 18 Elections in Uganda // Honoring slain school teacher & LGBT activist David Kato. The very next post was about the death of a 24 year old artist, Victor Leiva, killed in Guatemala City. From the viewpoint of freeDimensional & the Creative Resistance Fund, there was a common condition that allowed both of these heinous acts to happen … a lack of support and protection! Many times, I am asked to provide a formula for how or why an artist gets into life-risking danger. Of course there are stylistic forms of censorship and suppression that are different from one region to another and when levied across diverse demographics, but I suppose there is a sort of countdown or sequence of events that is discernible: When the rule of law erodes (or has never formed) and the protective layers of civil society are stripped away due to contested elections, civil war, cross-border conflict, etc; when we know that journalists are fearful to give literal accounts of the impunity faced by their communities, then we also know that artists who bear witness to the societal condition will face danger. The outcome is the same for a artist in Guatemala and an LGBT activist in Uganda. Conversely, I would argue that to improve conditions for culture workers in areas of unrest would make it safer for grassroots activists (and vice versa). It’s also important to consider how sexual orientation can be used as grounds to economically marginalize a person regardless of whether his/her work is related through personal activism. For example I recently asked a grantee of the Creative Resistance Fund if sexual orientation had anything to do with the eminent danger faced. The answer was yes, but with the caveat that there is no way to know for sure until it is too late. Unfortunately, I have heard this on several occasions. When I think about all these overlapping vulnerable groups – grassroots activists, LGBT community, artists in conflict (or unsafe) areas – the concepts of precarity and intersectionality come to mind. According to Wikipedia, precarity means “existence without predictability or security, affecting material or psychological welfare.” And, “intersectionality holds that the classical conceptualizations of oppression within society, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and religion-based bigotry, do not act independently of one another; instead, these forms of oppression interrelate, creating a system of oppression that reflects the “intersection” of multiple forms of discrimination.”
The image used for this post is by Velimir Zernovski, one of the few artists to directly explore notions of identity and popular culture as well as sexuality and gender identity in Macedonia. Zernovski states that “Artists are not here, especially now, to produce beautiful paintings to hang in your living room; our obligation is far more complicated.” freeDimensional & the Creative Resistance Fund have invited Velimir to talk about the issues laid out above while he is in New York for Alice, what else is out there? an exhibit at Gallery MC from 7-21 April. Stay tuned for more information on that talk or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the Creative Resistance Fund further develops, we will continually look for ways to distribute decision-making and resources to trusted partners in regions where we work. Often times emerging artist residencies are the most interested in providing Creative Safe Haven to culture workers, writers, and dissidents in need of accommodation during a critical period. At the same time, emerging initiatives are usually fueled by the volunteerism (blood, sweat, tears) of their founders, and may need financial capital to match the social capital they present. A couple years ago, freeDimensional started the Emerging Art Space Support Initiative (EASSI) to get to know the needs and possibilities of working with new and emerging spaces around the world. One such space, Sangam House, a literary residency that happens in different locations around India told us of their plan to start a rolling fund for inviting writers from the region who are facing adverse conditions due to views expressed in their work. As a follow-up step to EASSI, the Creative Resistance Fund has made a financial contribution to Sangam House and their Rolling Fund. We look forward to learning from this process and gaining insight from Sangam’s experience that will help us to make similar investments in partner organizations elsewhere in the world. We also plan to support Sangam House in the further development of their fund.
The December 19th elections in Belarus have come and gone. Alexander Lukashenko has, once again, declared himself the winner with nearly 80 percent of the votes. International observers have condemned the outcome. In less than 24 hours after the election, Lukashenko’s forces rounded up hundreds of unarmed protestors, including several of the opposition candidates. Many family members of the candidates have told international reporters that they still do not know where their loved ones are. In the last few days, the total arrests have surpassed one thousand. One of those rounded up was Natalia Koliada of the Belarus Free Theatre. Natalia has been an outspoken critic of Lukashenko’s regime; she was detained overnight on the 19th and released the next day, forced into hiding. Some details of her detention have been made known, including the fact that she was given no water or food and verbally threatened with death. You can read more about Natalia’s detention, and the detentions in general, here. freeDimensional and the Creative Resistance Fund are following the lead of Trans Europe Halle to build a solidarity fund for the Belarus Free Theatre. Joining in the effort are Mischief + Mayhem Books and IETM. More information, including how to contribute, can be found here. Blog text reprinted from DW Gibson, co-founder of Mischief + Mayhem Books.