PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), in partnership with the Mekong Cultural Hub (MCH) and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM ASIA) have released a publication, which captures growing anxiety among artists and creative practitioners across South, Southeast, East, and Central Asia.
Connecting the Dotsexplores questions that are critical to understanding the state of artistic freedom in Asia, through the lens of 25 artists, creative practitioners, human rights defenders, lawyers and other stakeholders coming from 19 countries in South, Southeast, East, and Central Asia. It presents key discussions, findings, and recommendations from a closed virtual workshop convened in November 2021 and shares powerful anecdotal references from the participants, including a Uyghur musician and activist, a Vietnamese filmmaker, and a Myanmar artist – whose identities are kept confidential for security reasons.
On April 1st members of ACAR had the chance to talk online with artists from Thailand and Myanmar about the alarming situation for the arts and the freedom of expression in both countries. The situation in Myanmar under military dictatorship, with disappearance of artists and the dissolution of public cultural live goes along with rising of protests in Thailand and massive attacks against artists, namely theatre artists with rising number of victims – arrested or killed. Thai theatre artists have started a call for solidarity with theatre artists in Myanmar, passed to the Myanmar embassy.
ACAR will follow the situation and has offered support via the ITI network and other connected initiatives.
Berlin-based Schaubühne has been touring several Chinese cities with its internationally acclaimed production of Ibsen’s „An Enemy of the People”, directed by Thomas Ostermeier. After the first stop in China’s capital Beijing, theatre administrators objected to a scene with audience participation in a discussion about the environmental and political scandal in Ibsen’s play. The current tour’s last two performances in Nanjing have been cancelled now.
The sensitive issue of censorship is remarkable in this case as Schaubühne is the leading German theatre company frequently visiting China since 2014 as part of a general development towards more international theatre shown in China. The company and their shows, e.g. “Hamlet” also directed by Ostermeier, have been celebrated by Chinese audiences on several occasions and Schaubühne’s artistic directorship is well acquainted with the pre-check procedures of each performance to be shown there. Official statements are yet to be expected.
The Wuhou District People’s Court in Chengdu, Sichuan’s capital, convicted Chen Yunfei, 49, for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and sentenced him to four years in prison, reported Human Rights Watch on 31 March 2017. The conviction of Chen Yunfei related to tweets critical of the Chinese government and his various performance art projects, including one in which Chen Yunfei called the police to report an “illegal gathering,” which turned out to be a government conference. Police had detained Chen Yunfei in March 2015, after he organized a memorial service for victims of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. Chen has suffered a near 2 year long pre-trial detention and he was tortured twice for violating the rules of the detention center. One of the original charges against Chen – “inciting subversion of state power” – was dropped from the indictment in March 2016. Voice Project has an online petition.
The festival ran from 4-15 January 2017. Two performances – Singaporean danceer Ming Poon’s ‘Undressing Room’ and Canadian Thea Fitz-James’ ‘Naked Ldies’ – were cut by Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), stating that the works have exceeded the R18 rating. Poon’s performance is a “one-to-one performance where the performer and an audience-participant execute a ritual of undressing each other in total silence” and is done in private, without an audience. Fitz-James’ performance is a “lecture about the history of the naked female body”, which the artist delivers in the nude. Festival organisers decided against compromising on the artistic integrity of these works and stay convinced that the performances made “deliberate attempts to distinguish nudity from sexual connotations”.
A Festival press realases says “Through history, the arts have demonstrated its power to open minds and hearts, to transform and heal, and to inspire – if not effect – real, valuable change. We stand resolutely for this, and despite the hurdles that can seem daunting and sometimes enervating, we are not backing down from doing what the Fringe Festival does best: challenge all that is taken for granted as intransigent, unwavering and unforgiving.”
The toolkit was prepared by Siyah Bant and Istanbul Bilgi University Human Rights Law Research Center and contains suggestions for Turkish artists and art institutions on how to pursue legal remedies when their right to artistic freedom is violated. The toolkit comprises two sections. The first part, “Legal Framework,” outlines the basic parameters of the freedom of expression in the arts as well as information about Turkish and international legislation regarding the freedom of artistic expression. The second part, “Practical Information and Recommendations,” contains sample cases adapted from actual stories of censorship, and roadmaps that artists and arts institutions can follow when they encounter repression of their rights to freedom of expression.
A digital copy of the toolkit in Turkish is available for download at the website of Siyah Bant.