Published on Artseverywhere.ca.
Read the whole roundtable here.
Ivor Stodolsky & Marita Muukkonen
Artists at Risk (AR) at AR-Safe Haven Helsinki
Artists, writers, curators, critics and scholars are targets of politically motivated threats and persecution in great parts of the world. Since its inception, Perpetuum Mobile (PM) has been working both with residencies and artists from regions with histories of authoritarian repression. Starting with its first major thematic project on Perestroika in 2007 and continuing with the Re-Aligned Project (from 2012, ongoing) PM has worked with artists and intellectuals whose of freedom of speech and artistic expression has been limited or violated. Quite naturally this led to a concern for the safety of artists which PM worked with and hosted at partner-residencies. The development of dedicated residency-programmes for artists “at risk” was a natural development.
PM has run dedicated short-term residencies for artists at risk since 2013. Working through the “On the Move” programme, run in partnership with HIAP — Helsinki International Artist Programme, PM received the first artists “at risk” understood as such. PM and HIAP developed a network of partner institutions called “Nordic Fresh Air” composed of Nordic and Baltic art actors who work with art practitioners at risk. This work, funded by the Nordic Cultural Point and the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture was gradually developed and expanded. This culminated in the establishment of a long-term programme financed by the City of Helsinki under the title of “Safe Haven — Helsinki” (SHH).
The “Helsinki Model”, as it has come to be known, stands as as the key example to other municipal nodes of Artists at Risk (AR), the new global institution of Safe Haven Residencies anchored in Helsinki.
Safe Haven Helsinki is — with Artists at Risk (AR), which grew directly out of it — a new type of project at the intersection of human rights and the visual arts. AR develops new physical residencies for contemporary art practitioners at risk, enabling funds and opportunities, while providing a wider network and curatorial framework for their artistic practice. It was the first such institution at the intersection of the visual arts and human rights, and continues to be unique in its scope.
Art practitioners are often among the most prominent voices in oppressive societies, and authoritarian governments often turn to forms of repression of freedom of expression, imprisonment, and even torture or murder to silence dissenting voices. For these reasons, art practitioners “at risk” are often in need of either a short-term break or a longer-term stay in a safe and supportive context. They often need to “take a breath” to gather their forces, collect their thoughts and prepare for the next step in their careers.
Artists at Risk (AR) Safe Haven Helsinki is a “stepping stone” which enables art professionals to do just this. They arrive in Helsinki as art professionals — not as refugees or asylum seekers — and usually wish to return to their countries of origin to continue their art and engaged practice. AR/SHH provides them with a base from which to continue onwards with new strength and to new achievements, and even, as with several past AR-Residents, to international recognition.
Take an artist such as Issa Touma, the photographer and filmmaker from war-torn Aleppo who was honoured with the European Short Film Prize, as well as the London/BFI Short Film Prize, among many others. Or consider Erkan Özgen, whose video art work “Wonderland” was shown at the AR PAVILION — an exhibition with works by AR-Residents launched by PM at the Athens Biennale in parallel to documenta 14, with further iterations in Istanbul and Madrid — and which has since been acquired by Tate Modern.
Filling a Gap in the International Human Rights Sector
AR fills a gap for creative intellectuals “at risk.” It works to help the several fields of endeavour that fall outside the remit, competences or resources of renowned international organisations such as PEN (writers and journalists), SafeMuse/FreeMUSE (musicians) or Scholars at Risk (academics and researchers).
Visual artists is a primary focus of AR, but other creative intellectuals such as musicians, filmmakers and theatre practitioners are considered for AR-Residencies. Unlike many other institutions, it also works directly with the artists — from facilitating their safe exit from their countries of origin, funding their travels and residencies, hosting on a day-to-day basis, as well as, crucially, producing their artistic work. To give just one example, PM is currently co-producing the next album of Ramy Essam, the famed “singer of Tahrir Square” — one of the first artists hosted by Artists at Risk (AR) — to be released on his return to Egypt.