Zimbabwean protest poet and recent Artists at Risk (AR)-Resident Collen Kajokoto has recorded a poignant video speaking to the importance of artistic freedom and defending free speech, which AR is sharing in full for the first time today. Excerpts of his testimony were featured in a video recently released by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to mark the launch of Norway’s new strategy for the defence of freedom of expression and journalistic independence.
“As a poet, I am the mirror… of the community, of the society, of the nation, of the world in which I live. As the mirror, I don’t need free food, but I need freedom of speech. And freedom of expression is my diet…
Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are like the brick and mortar upon which artistic and cultural bridges are built. Bridges that bring freedom, liberty, harmony, growth and development to the entire world. An artist without freedom of speech is like a broken mirror. He is imprisoned for the rest of his life…
Like the proverbial evergreen tree that flourishes on the riverbanks, freedom of speech and freedom of expression allow me to imagine, to dream, to be innovative and to be creative…”
The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ video also features Vietnamese pop star Mai Khoi (likewise an AR-Alumni), prominent journalist and former Vice-President of the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate, Abeer Saady, and researcher/lecturer in the Department of Journalism and Communications at Makerere University, Uganda, Gerald Walulya.
You can find this video here.
Together, these voices speak to the urgency of defending freedom of expression and artistic liberty in the face of growing waves of censorship, persecution and authoritarianism worldwide.
Artists at Risk (AR) is pleased that Norway is renewing its commitment to freedom of expression and making its defence a central plank of its foreign policy. It is our hope that more countries will provide concrete help and heed the hardship and persecution of artists like Collen Kajokoto. Not long ago, AR shared his story of facing renewed persecution after already spending several harrowing years in prison for publishing poetry critical of Zimbabwe’s authoritarian government, alongside a GoFundMe campaign started by colleagues and friends to help keep Kajokoto and his daughter Ellen safe.
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Collen Kajokoto was an Artists at Risk (AR) Resident at an undisclosed location. This AR-Residency was funded by the AR-Bridging Fund with support from Kone Foundation. The AR-Network is coordinated by the AR-Secretariat and curated by Perpetuum Mobile – PM.