Press Release: Central America Forum on Art, Culture & Human Rights

Posted on June 12, 2014 | No Comments

CA mapThe Central America Regional Forum on Arts, Culture and Human Rights takes place June 18-20 – Tegucigalpa, Honduras

freeDimensional (, Colectivo Hormiga ( HIVOS ( 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 (, a program funded by SIDA ( 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.

Show on African homosexuality shut down after fundamentalist attack

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, 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

Photo credit: Nigerian photographer Andrew Esiebo’s ongoing series “Who We Are” portrays gay men from Lagos

Ai Weiwei on Tiananmen Square

Posted on June 5, 2014 | No Comments

ai-weiwei-tiananmen-square-bChina 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

Learning from Experience

Posted on May 9, 2014 | No Comments

iani 06By: Arahmaiani

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.

How I got back the energy and confidence to keep doing…

Posted on May 6, 2014 | No Comments

ChawEiCompressedBy: Chaw Ei Thein

In 2006, I came to New York for a yearlong artist residency program and during that time, I was warned that my safety could not be assured if I were to return to Burma. The reason I could not return was my artwork, interviews I had given with the international media and newspaper articles about my work as it related to a critique of the political situation in Burma at that time. Unable to return home, I was facing very difficult time settling in to life in New York; I was totally frustrated and very worried about how to live, find a way to survive and uncertain as to whether I could continue my career as an artist in this new place with its new challenges.

Then in 2010, one of my friends, an artist who lives in Brooklyn introduced me to Todd Lester, founder of freeDimensional. fD provided the support I needed to restart my life as an artist in New York City, connecting me to the arts community, pro-bono legal counsel for my asylum process, immigrant resources and services. fD recommended me for several artist residency programs and arranged talks at cultural institutions, universities and arts organizations to share my experiences and through my artwork raise awareness about the situation of freedom of expression and democracy in my home country. These opportunities to engage with people, to tell my story, is how I got back the energy and confidence I needed to keep doing what I had been doing before and deal with the new challenges I was faced with.

Through fD I have made many new friends, who like me were forced to leave their countries because of their art and activities defending human rights and freedom of expression. Having a community of like-minded individuals with similar experiences, who could learn from each other to keep moving forward, made me feel like I was not alone.

These days, when artists, journalists and cultural workers who fight for social justice face great risks and personal danger, organizations like fD that protect and support vulnerable individuals are of crucial importance to defending freedom of expression around the world.

* * * * *  

Artists often use their creative practice to voice the concerns of their communities and challenge injustice, but in return they may be harassed, attacked, exiled, imprisoned, tortured or worse…fD defends these essential voices but to do so we need your financial support today.

Since 2006, fD has worked with nearly 200 culture workers at risk, from over 35 countries, by brokering safe haven in artists residencies and developing tools for partners across sectors to help assess and support artists in danger. Right now we need your support for:

– One-to-One case management for artists, culture workers and communicators in need of critical personal and professional support.

– Design and translation of our DIY guidebook for individuals at risk – Creative Safe Haven Advo-kit – into the languages of territories where culture workers are most in need.

– Development of 5 ‘regional safety networks’ around the world to provide immediate and accessible response when individuals are in situations of dangers.

Your contribution will make a real difference in the lives of artists, culture workers and communicators who find themselves at risk, around the world.


the fD Team

* * * * *

Donate today! – click here to make your donation online or send a check payable to freeDimensional to P.O. Box 301, New York, NY 10276

U Win Tin, Writer Jailed by Myanmar Junta, Dies

Posted on April 22, 2014 | No Comments

TIN-OBIT-1-master675U Win Tin, a journalist, author and poet who became a leading opponent of the military rulers of Myanmar, where he was imprisoned and tortured for 19 years, died on Monday in Yangon, formerly Rangoon. Sources differ on whether he was 84 or 85.

The political party he helped found, the National League for Democracy, announced the death. Reports in the local news media said his kidneys and other organs had failed.

Mr. Win Tin joined eight other political activists to form the National League for Democracy in 1988. Led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her human rights advocacy, the party won a landslide victory in national elections in 1990, but the governing generals refused to cede power.

Even before the elections, the military government placed Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, where she remained for 15 of the next 21 years. It was widely assumed that the government had been reluctant to jail her because her father had been a hero of the nation’s independence struggle against the British and a founder of the modern Burmese army.

But the government had no compunction about incarcerating Mr. Win Tin, whom Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and other party leaders called Saya, or “the wise one.” It accused him of being a Communist, a charge he denied.

As described in a memoir, “What’s That? A Human Hell” (2010), his imprisonment, beginning in 1989, was harrowing. He was placed in a tiny cell in what had been a dog kennel and given no bedding. He was fed sparingly and given inadequate medical care. An operation for a strangulated hernia, performed in a dirty prison hospital cell, resulted in the loss of a testicle. He lost most of his teeth in a beating and was then denied dentures. He had two heart attacks in prison. Much of the time he was in solitary confinement. He was deprived of sleep. He was denied visits from the Red Cross. New charges were often added to his sentence.

To keep his sanity, Mr. Win Tin smuggled fragments of brick into his cell and ground them into paste to write poems and philosophy on his cell walls. “I could not bow down to them,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 2009, the year after his unexpected release.

In one of his most dangerous acts of defiance, he disseminated writing about his plight. In 1996, seven years were added to his sentence after he petitioned the United Nations about conditions in Myanmar’s prisons.

Once a year during his imprisonment Mr. Win Tin’s captors offered him a chance to renounce his political beliefs and resign from his party. Each time, he had the same response: a wordless smile. His stubbornness continued after his release. He refused to stop wearing his blue prison shirt, or a replica of it, until all political prisoners were released.

Relations between the United States and Myanmar improved after Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s release in 2010, with the countries exchanging ambassadors and President Obama visiting in November 2012. Washington also expressed approval that elections were held in 2012 in which the National League for Democracy won 43 of the 44 seats it sought, out of 45.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi led the party in that successful campaign and announced in June that she wanted to run for the presidency in 2015. Mr. Win Tin expressed gentle disapproval, saying that the system she would participate in was still corrupt because the constitution imposed by the military remained in effect.

“Some of us would like to push the military into the Bay of Bengal,” he told The Washington Post in 2013. “She only wants to push them into Kandawgyi Lake,” a reference to the heart of Yangon.

U Win Tin was born in Pegu, Burma, which in 1989 became Bago, Myanmar. He was variously reported to have been born in March of 1929 or 1930.

He earned a bachelor’s degree for his work in English literature, modern history and political science from Rangoon (now Yangon) University. He worked for Agence France-Presse and for three years was a consultant to a publishing company in the Netherlands. He was top editor of several Burmese newspapers.

In 1978, the newspaper he was editing, The Hanthawaddy Daily, was shut down for satirizing the local authorities. Military officials suspected that he had advised Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi to begin her civil disobedience campaign in 1988. During his imprisonment, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi said his torturers “wished to force him to admit he was my adviser on political tactics; in other words, that he was my puppet master.”

After his release, Mr. Win Tin wrote a weekly column and broadcast a weekly radio show, using satire to mock the government. He founded a political journal he had conceived in jail with other political prisoners.

Mr. Win Tin, who never married, adopted a daughter who he said had been forced into exile in Australia. He left no other immediate survivors.

After his release, Mr. Win Tin, a man of deep humility, continued to eat sparingly, having one meal early in the day and a bit of fruit in the evening. “I don’t want to be a burden on anyone,” he said.

Text and image reposted from

Artist-activists in Pakistan : drone deaths are ‘NotABugSplat’

Posted on April 9, 2014 | No Comments

NotABugSplat posterInspired by the French photographer JR, who installs hugely magnified portraits of local people in the landscape, a group of artist-activists travelled to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the scene of a US drone attack last November. With them they brought a giant poster of an unnamed child who is said to have lost both her parents and two younger siblings in one of the attacks. Having secured the agreement of local people, they unrolled the picture and fixed it flat on the ground in a field beside a group of houses.

The number of civilians so far killed by drones remains a matter of intense debate, but the worry among campaigners is that this kind of warfare makes killing unpleasantly easy. Operators have compared the experience with playing a computer game, and a Rolling Stone article in 2012 recorded their use of the term “bug splat” to describe the mess on the ground that killing someone leaves behind. The artists have chosen #NotABugSplat as the project’s name.

The intention now is that any drone operator who looks down through their camera and sees this village will have reason to think twice. In their own words, the artists hope the image “will create empathy and introspection amongst drone operators, and will create dialogue amongst policy makers, eventually leading to decisions that will save innocent lives”.

Read the full article here:

New Generation Palestinian Artists at Whitebox Arts Center, NY, Opens 3 April

Posted on April 2, 2014 | No Comments

A New Generation of Palestinian Artists Converges in New York

How Green Was My Valley opens April 3 at Whitebox Art Center and runs through April 27, 2014.


In 2005, ArtPalestine International was formed to promote Palestinian artists in the US, offering them a visible, public platform through exhibitions and programming. As a dispersed and dislocated population, Palestinians navigate myriad challenges, whether it’s deep restrictions on mobility and uncertainty about statehood in the West Bank and Gaza or finding cultural identity in the diaspora.

How Green Was My Valley, an exhibition presented by ArtPalestine International and Whitebox Art Center, highlights the experience of a new generation of Palestinian artists.  Engaging international shifts that have merged contemporary art practices with eco-activism, urbanism, documentary filmmaking, and archival methods, How Green Was My Valley brings together 15 Palestinian artists from the West Bank, Gaza, Israel, and the diaspora for the first time in New York, documenting personal narratives from across the Bank and Gaza or finding cultural identity in the diaspora.

Image credit: Tarek  al Ghoussein, C Series, 2007. Archival digital print . Courtesy of  Taymour Grahne Gallery

See the whole article and a video here :

Salvadorian performance artist faces prison for eating his ballot card : petition launched in his defence

Posted on March 28, 2014 | No Comments


Víctor “Crack” Rodríguez is facing up to six years in prison for a performance piece.   After the general election in El Salvador that split the winning left party from the right by a margin of less than 1% percent, tensions in the country are high, especially amongst the nation’s community of artists, who are rallying to defend Rodríguez, one of San Salvador’s celebrated contemporary artists.

On March 9th, 2014 Rodriguez walked in to a ballot station and announced, “this is an artist action,” then proceeded to eat half of his ballot in front of polling station onlookers before casting the remaining half.  A video of the artist’s performance went viral.  But the situation quickly turned ugly as the Salvadoran legal system reacted, accusing the artist of electoral fraud — a criminal offence punishable by up to six years in prison.

Renowned Salvadoran artist Simon Vega is appalled by the charges:

The fact that many of us feel there is not one political party or candidate in which we can believe or respect yet having the authorities tell us that the vote is “the people’s most powerful weapon,” makes many of us identify with his action. According to the law, “Crack” could be facing from 2 to 6 years in prison for expressing himself in this way, how senseless! We won’t allow it. I think the action is one of the most important, consequent and effective works of contemporary art in Central America’s history, no doubt.

The artists’s collaborators Ernesto Bautista, Mauricio Kabistan, and Melissa Guevara, fellow members of the collective The Fire Theory, have created a petition in order for the art community at large to show their appreciation for the artist’s intention. The artists are hoping to use this petition as evidence to show that Rodríguez is a seasoned artist and that this “call to action” forms part of his practice and is not a crime.

see the whole article here:


Arab Documentary Photography Programme launched: deadline 15 April 2014

Posted on March 18, 2014 | No Comments

AFAC image for enewsletterThe Arab Fund for Art and Culture and the Prince Claus Fund in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in partnership with the Magnum Foundation in New York, USA, are launching the Arab Documentary Photography Programme (ADPP). The ADPP will run from 2014 to 2016, targeting creative documentary photographers in the Arab region. Up to 10 grantees will be selected to receive financial and professional support to complete their proposed photography projects.

The focus of the Arab Documentary Photography Programme is to support compelling non-stereotypical and unconventional visual documentation of important social issues and narratives relevant to the Arab region. The ADPP will also explore ways by which such a body of work will reach out to wider audiences and engage with them in a compelling and impactful ways. Photographers may propose to work in a range of non-fiction narrative styles, from classic documentary photography to more experimental visual storytelling, and may propose to include audio and video elements.

Call closing: 15 April 2014

Please consult the Grant Guidelines before applying. Applications are accepted only through the online application available on the AFAC website

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