PRESS RELEASE: Desperate Afghan artists and creatives appeal to world leaders for rescue

Communiqué de Presse en français

6 December 2021

For Immediate Release

Desperate Afghan artists and creatives appeal to world leaders for rescue

Artists at Risk (AR) has been entrusted with a desperate and powerful letter from Afghan artists and creatives. (Find the letter in English, French, German or Farsi with all press materials here: Forced to flee their homes and lives, the ‘signatories’ of this letter live in terror, hiding or on the run from the Taliban. For fear of retaliation, the group has replaced signatures with photographs of themselves with signs shielding their faces, but which state their creative profession. This letter and its accompanying signature-photographs is a cry of desperation, a plea to be saved from their terrifying fate.

Artists at Risk (AR) has the honour and burden of transmitting this letter to its rightful recipients:

US President Biden
German Federal Chancellor Scholz
French President Macron
UK Prime Minister Johnson
EU Commission President von der Leyen
NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg
UN Secretary General Guterres
and governments and people of the world.

As the signatories starkly write, we must guarantee that the “precious national culture and spirit of the Afghan people remains alive for future generations”. To this end, we respectfully but forcefully insist on the immediate provision of visa-documents and resources to artists and creatives seeking to escape severe persecution under Taliban rule.

The Taliban considers almost all arts as running counter to Islamic law, in its extremist view. Additionally, “Artists and cultural activists are often prominent voices of modernization, democratic freedoms and secular thought. Figures who held an anti-Taliban stance over the past two decades are actively being hunted down and subjected to harsh punishment, even death”, said AR co-founder and director Marita Muukkonen

The world witnessed the chaotic evacuation of Afghanistan go by in a tragic newsflash. Even worse, with the exit of the US military and its allies on 31 August, 2021, an image was created of the window of opportunity being slammed shut. This perception of the situation is not only false but has allowed leaders to wash their hands of the terrifying crisis of the entire non-Taliban population.

“The window is still open. Flights have resumed and continue to leave Afghanistan. Land borders are by no means hermetic, and thousands have fled to neighbouring countries. The problem is fundamentally different: that western governments have stopped or stalled the issuing of visas,” Muukkonen emphasised.

Images of Afghans in their thousands, trying to flee the country following the precipitous collapse of the western-backed regime still haunt us. Those lucky enough to find their way to Kabul airport were closest to the western military and diplomatic missions. Largely forgotten were artists and other creative professionals who, simply by the nature of their profession, are considered haram (forbidden) by the Taliban. These are the same creative forces that had fought, unarmed, for their country’s revival after decades of war and intolerance.

“Let us not forget the fearlessness with which they took on the fight against fundamentalism. At the core of western assurances to win over ‘hearts and minds’ against the ideology that fueled 9/11, these unarmed warriors, once blithely encouraged, have now been abandoned to a harsh fate”, said AR co-founder and director Ivor Stodolsky.

“From the start of this fiasco”, Stodolsky continued, “despite efforts of cultural organisations around the world, governments have failed to recognise Afghan artists as systematically vulnerable despite news of their ongoing persecution. This issue has not been addressed with any sense of urgency. Barring the comparatively few early evacuations, the majority of artists and creatives at risk remain abandoned inside Afghanistan or stranded in a third country.”

As bearers of this letter, we respectfully insist that action is taken to grant these artists and creatives at risk immediate safe passage out of Afghanistan, away from the threat of the Taliban. In short, we send this letter to government leaders as a solemn plea to save artists’ lives.

Hashtag: #SaveAfghanArtists 

We turn to the media especially, and all our partners and networks, to amplify the voices of Afghanistan’s brave artists and creatives who have been forced into a life of fear and silence, by transmitting their words and images to the widest possible public. 

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About Artists at Risk (AR)

ARTISTS at RISK (AR) is a non-profit network-institution at the intersection of human rights and the arts. As a platform dedicated to persecuted artists and cultural practitioners, the work of AR encompasses mapping and advocacy of arts professionals at risk, addressing their immediate practical needs and advancing their artistic practice. To achieve this, AR-Residents are granted short or longer term temporary relocations at Artists at Risk (AR) Residencies around the world. AR-Residents are invited as honoured visiting arts professionals. These are art practitioners who not only greatly enrich their host countries, but are at the heart of rebuilding their often war-torn countries of origin.