In light of ongoing threats to artistic freedom around the world, PEN America this week announced its new resource called the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC). The project aims to connect threatened artists with “emergency funding, housing opportunities, residencies, fellowships and grants, and legal, immigration, and resettlement services” for which they may be eligible.
PEN America Executive Director explained the impetus for ARC in the launch announcement:
Artists face backlash when they push up against intellectual, social, and ideological boundaries. While global campaigns and U.N. resolutions have been mounted to protect journalists and human rights defenders, threats to artists have gotten limited international attention. The Artists at Risk Connection brings together an extraordinary network of global organizations committed to augmenting the assistance available to artists who risk their freedom and their lives in the name of creative expression.
In addition to serving as a frontline resource for artists in need of emergency services and information, ARC also seeks to increase public knowledge of threatened artists around the world. Just in the first batch of creatives featured on the site, we see a couple of familiar faces: Zehra Doğan of Turkey and Rokudenashiko of Japan.
Zehra Doğan, the Kurdish founder of feminist news agency Jinha, is currently serving two years and ten months in prison for her painting of Turkish government forces suppressing an uprising in the town of Nusaybin. Despite the fact that the artwork was based on a government photo showing the same scene, Doğan was convicted of “endangering security by depicting a military operation.” In prison she and several fellow inmates founded a newspaper inspired by Özgür Gündem, a Kurdish-interest paper that was shut down by the government last year.
Rokudenashiko is best-known worldwide for her “vagina kayak,” a 3D-printed boat molded from the shape of her own genitals. After she emailed the plans to donors as part of a crowdfunding campaign, she was briefly detained and later fined 400,000 yen (about $3600) for online distribution of obscene material. She recounted the entire ordeal in her bookWhat Is Obscenity? The Story of a Good for Nothing Artist and her Pussy, published in the U.S. last year. More recently, she has taken on Japan’s criminal justice system and overbroad anti-terrorism laws with a series of 50 manga-style game cards released on Twitter.
Artists in need of immediate help anywhere in the world can search the ARC database for resources that may be of assistance. For comic creators in the U.S., of course, CBLDF is ready and eager to help in a First Amendment emergency! Thanks to PEN America for spearheading this invaluable project.
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.