On Wednesday 13 September a letter by the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs caused widespread furore within the cultural community of France. In the wake of the crisis between France and the three Sahelian countries the letter called for an immediate halt to all projects involving nationals from Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. Subsidized cultural establishments would have to “suspend, until further notice, all cooperation…without delay, and without exception.” The letter further states: “All financial support must also be suspended, including via French structures such as associations… Similarly, no invitations should be extended to any nationals of these countries. Students with valid visas and flight tickets are already denied entry to France.
The National Syndicate for Artistic and Cultural Enterprises union (SYNDEAC) released a statement saying that the radical measures represented the intrusive influence of politics in cultural programming and a dent in France’s policy of international artistic solidarity – in particular a damaging blow to the 2005 UNESCO Convention “on the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions”.
In response to the protests, French Cultural Minister Rima Abdul-Malak declared “We never boycott artists from anywhere.” She added that the measures are not a shift in policy but an adaptation to an extremely deteriorated security context. They will only affect new projects hat would require travel visas for artists.
51 arts organisations signed a press release (PDF) on 19 September calling for a space for dialogue and inter-ministerial work with the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of the Interior and Overseas: “We reaffirm that these obstacles to the mobility of artists and cultural actors from these countries cannot be based on the closure of embassies and the absence of a team on the spot: we recall that the issuance of visas can be done without the presence of a local embassy and that solutions exist.”
Public discussion: “Artists from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso without visas: exceptional situation or systemic problem?” Wednesday 11 October at 10.30 am on the Elysée Montmartre workshop (Paris).
At the regional level, political influence has been increasing for quite some time. Earlier this year, in March, the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region adopted a “Charter for the defense of French values and secularism” by 152 votes to 32. The charter covers a wide range of concepts, from freedom and secularism to “anti-corruption policies”. It aims to fight “in particular against religious fundamentalism such as Islamism”, against “the so-called inclusive scripture” and against “Anglicism”. Associations and foundations could have their regional subsidies withdrawn if they violate the “republican commitment contract”.
Artists at Risk Connection in partnership with regional and global networks continues regional reports on artistic freedom, based on closed workshops with artists, human rights defenders, and cultural practitioners from the respective region. After Connecting the Dots(Asian region) now Art in Turmoil: Artistic Freedom and Human Rights in Latin America and the Caribbean has been released, with Amnesty International and Labo Ciudadano.
Yvette Hardie, outgoing president of ASSITEJ and Director of ASSITEJ South Africa has addressed a letter to the international theatre community and the ITI. She describes that in South Africa with the COVID19 pandemic “Artists and creative practitioners are suffering after more than a year without proper support from the national Department of Sports, Arts and Culture, and with severe mismanagement of the relief “. Several contracts for beneficiaries for a grant, set up finally in November last year, have been cut without justification, delayed or have not been paid until now. Sibongile Mngoma a world-renowned opera singer, is leading a group of representatives of enraged South African artists and creative practitioners who have occupied National Arts Council offices in Johannesburg on 3 March 2021 and have remained there for over a month, calling for transparency and accountability. The occupiers received a wave of solidarity from the whole creative sector and are now in urgent danger to be physically attacked and removed from the place.
ITI Director General Tobias Biancone has published a Call for an Enabling Environment for the Arts & Culture Sector in South Africa, addressed to the Government of South Africa, the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture and The National Arts Council: “The International Theatre Institute ITI is deeply concerned about the current situation in South Africa. It firmly stands in solidarity with South African Artists and creative practitioners who are demanding accountability and transparency regarding relief funding for the arts…South Africa is extremely rich in cultural diversity. Cultural practitioners and artists from all over the world highly esteem the creative output of your country. Covid-19 and its aftermath in the culture sector should not destroy what has been built up for many decades.”
Please, post your support statement and use these hashtags: #Im4theArts #ArtistsLivesMatter #CreativeSurvivorSA, and for Twitter: @nacsouthafrica, @SportsArtsCultur @PresidencyZA .
The Central Khartoum Primary Court issued a verdict against five young artists to two months imprisonment and a fine of 5,000 SDG (equivalent of 90,9 USD). On August 10th, neighbors of Civic Lab network, an organization in Khartoum where rehearsal of a play was taking place, complained about too much noise. The complaint increased to physical attacks to the artists and the staff of the Civic Lab. When the police arrived they arrested the artists and did not stop the neighbors to beat them with sticks and to throw stones at them. The artists are: Duaa Tarig Mohamed Ahmed (Program and Office Manage), Abdel Rahman Mohamed Hamdan, Ayman Khalaf Allah Mohamed Ahmed, Ahmed Elsadig Ahmed Hammad, Hajooj Mohamed Haj Omar (aka Hajooj Kuka, awarded filmmaker). These artists have spent the last two years creating art to support Sudan’s quest for freedom and democracy. They have created hundreds of murals and films in the public service, supported the Prime Minister’s office and Sudan National Television, and conducted hundreds of civic engagement workshops across Sudan through their work at the Civic Lab network. Duaa, along with 4 of her colleagues were charged separately while another 6 artists are awaiting a verdict on Sunday 20th September. The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africe (SIHA) is extremliy concerned that “The legal framework, legal procedures and the articles of the law itself are designed to criminalise and prosecute civilians, particularly women and minorities. Women and activists are still an active target of the law enforcement in Sudan, and the criminalisation of women is legally enabled.”
ACAR states that artists are at the vanguard of positive change in Sudan. They have to be protected from violent mobs. The civilian led government has to to investigate the judges and police involved in this case.
Dancer and choreographer Kirvan Fortuin died after being stabbed on June 13. The South African founder and artistic director of the Kirvan Fortuin Foundation and founder of House of Le Cap, South Africa’s first ballroom house Fortuin was also a dedicated LGBTQI+ activist.
For the past few years Fortuin resided between South Africa and the Netherlands, and danced for a Dutch dance company. He received many awards, among them a Ministerial recommendation at the Western Cape Cultural Awards for Outstanding Contribution to Preservation and Promotion of an Indigenous Art form.
The Sudanese government acknowledged the death of 19 people during the nationwide peaceful protests s while Amnesty International reported that 37 people were killed since the 19 December. Also, hundreds were injured while dozens of opposition leaders are under arrest. The opposition alliance Sudan Call, has urged the international community to stand in solidarity with the Sudanese people in their pursuit for democracy and condemn the violent repression of peaceful protests.