PRESS: Art | An international success story grew from an organization that helps artists at risk: State awards for 15 by Pledge Times

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Source: Pledge Times


This year, the Artists at Risk activity received the prize for the social impact of art, which is given out for the first time.

Last in spring, a Ugandan poet, writer and professor of literature Danson Kahyana arrived safely in Finland. In his home country, there had been an attempt to assassinate him with a machete, because he had criticized the corrupt government and he was known as a poet with a political stance. Two of Kahyana’s colleagues were murdered when they wanted to silence the opposition even after the elections. More than a thousand representatives of the opposition are in prison, and people continue to disappear.

Kahyana had a big scar running across her face and she had no front teeth. In the safe residence, he was able to sleep for the first time in a long time.

“Kahyana took long walks in Töölö and was grateful that she didn’t have to constantly look over her shoulder or listen for the sounds of approaching motorcycles. In Uganda, contract killers move around on wheels,” he says Marita Muukkonen From the Artists at Risk (AR) security residency organization.

Muukkonen and Ivor Stodolsky The Artists at Risk (AR) activity piloted for ten years was awarded today on Tuesday with the state award for the social influence of art.

In total, the state art commissions awarded 15 state awards to a distinguished artist, work group and art community. The total amount of the prizes is 360,000 euros.

Artist at Risk is a Finnish-oriented success story. It has grown into a major international aid organization.

Before founding the Artists at Risk organization, Marita Muukkonen worked as a curator and in social roles.

Kahyana is one of the many artists that the Artists at Risk organization has helped because their human rights and freedom of expression are violated, their lives are threatened, or they are fleeing war.

Artists at Risk was founded out of practical necessity in Finland in 2013. Muukkonen and Stodolsky, who had worked as curators in the art field for a long time, wanted to help their colleagues who had participated in the Egyptian revolution and were therefore forced to leave the country.

“We thought that the best thing for an artist is to get into an artistic and social context, even for a moment. The writers’ freedom of expression organization Pen has been doing similar work with journalists and writers for a long time, but other artists lacked such an actor, so we started doing that work ourselves.”

A new and at that time unique idea was that the artist to be helped is in the center. For each person applying for a residency, we think about what would be the right place for them, where they would find colleagues in the same field and even making the same type of art. Then professional networking starts quickly. Language skills and family relationships are also taken into account.

“The artist is seen as a respected art professional, not as a refugee in need of protection. But he doesn’t have to do anything in the residency if he just wants to rest or needs therapy. Dissidents and artists often have a lot to say when they get to express themselves in a safe place.”

Today There are already more than 500 actors in the Artists at Risk (AR) network. Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there were 26 residences in different parts of the world. In Finland, there were residences in Helsinki and Porvoo before the war. Now, many new actors have joined the network, for example from Tampere, Tohmajärvi, Loviisa, Hyrynsalmi and Vaasa. The artists based in Helsinki work in the Lapinlahti hospital area and in the Hietsu pavilion. The artists live in Töölö. The residency period varies from three months to two years.

In Finland, the main financiers of the organization are currently the Peace Mediation Center of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland and the City of Helsinki. The biggest international financiers are the Swedish Central Committee for the Arts and the Andy Warhol Foundation.

Muukkonen describes the international organization of 20 people as light. The operation is based on the fact that the organization’s people in both the origin and investment countries know their own area. Regional experts are able to verify that the report about the threat and persecution is true. On the other hand, local artists and organizations are well known in the residence countries, which helps with networking.

In Finland, the organization cooperates with, for example, the theater information center Tinfo and the Dance information center Dinfo. These are responsible for the networking and contacts of the artists in the field during the residency.

“The artists are high-level professionals who bring strong artistic skills when they come to a new country. They get on with anything,” says Muukkonen.

in Finland Among others, a theater director from Moscow has worked in AR residencies Mikhail Durnenkov and St. Petersburg Pavel Semchenko, founding member of the legendary visual theater Akhe. The first performance of Durnenkov’s new play will be seen at Revontulihalli of the Espoo City Theater at the end of January.

Read more: I was ashamed that we Russians do not feel ashamed of anything – resentment is an important concept in understanding Russian society

Semchenko, on the other hand, has lived in residencies in Helsinki and Porvoo, where he has organized various performances. Currently, she is involved in a new play production, which tells about Russian female thinkers throughout history. It will premiere at the Gorky Theater in Berlin at the end of the year.

Iraqi textile artist Kholod Hawash just won the William Thuring main prize of the Finnish Artists’ Association, and is currently participating in Hamin Softyin the exhibition. Hawashi’s work was also seen at the Ars22 exhibition. Another Iraqi artist in residence Saddam Jumailin a series of several paintings will be exhibited at the upcoming Sharjah Biennale in the United Arab Emirates. There is no other representation from Finland at the biennale.

From Muukko and Stodolsky doesn’t run out of work – unfortunately, on the contrary.

Currently, a lot of applications come from Ukraine, and 329 Ukrainian artists have already been placed in different parts of Europe. Russian and Belorussian dissident artists have also applied for residency positions, and more than 150 of them have been placed.

Muukkonen doesn’t remember ever seeing a similar desire to help as now after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. The difference with foreign artists is that Ukrainians are not persecuted, but are in danger because of the war.

“We would hope that the same solidarity would be enough for others. In Afghanistan, the situation continues to worsen and people are disappearing and being tortured there. The most urgent need for protection right now are Iranian and Afghan artists or artists who have fled to Pakistan, because they are not safe there. The situation in Kurdistan is also getting worse.”



The work done at Artists at Risk is, for example, organizing visas, residence permits, residencies, trips and livelihoods. Right now, the time of Muukkonen, Stodolsky and the Afghanistan solidarity team is being taken up by filling out the new lists of the German Ministry of the Interior. Every artist from Afghanistan who wants to come to Germany has to fill out a 150-question application.

Major the complaint is related to Finland’s visa practices.

“Finland does not have a humanitarian visa policy like in, for example, Germany, France, Italy, Brazil and Latvia, which makes both our work and the artists’ work during the residency difficult,” says Muukkonen.

Due to the lack of a humanitarian visa, many artists feel that it does not make sense to come to Finland. The advantage of a humanitarian visa is that it is possible to work immediately, and you can travel abroad freely. Many hard professionals are also sought-after visitors abroad. Currently, Finland requires a work permit, which is a slow process.

“Six million Ukrainians could come to European countries when the political will was found, which was a great thing. A few thousand artists and human rights defenders in danger of life would need a humanitarian visa, so the number would be much smaller.”

What makes Muukkonen and Stodolsky cope with the work, which must be very heavy at times?

For them, Artists at Risk is more of a lifestyle than a job. Work is done without looking at the clock when you are in a hurry – and of course also because of the time difference.

“The most rewarding thing is that in this work you get to meet extremely strong and great artists, who you wouldn’t otherwise come across in our Europe-centric art world,” says Muukkonen.

The most exhausting thing is that the means to help are often so few – of which the visa is a good example. Sometimes people’s destinies get so confusing that they get under the skin.

In the midst of hard work, the state award for art feels important to Muukkonen, because it is peer recognition for work that is often invisible.

He is especially warmed by the fact that Artists at Risk received the social impact award for the first time this year.

“It underlines the fact that art and culture have social importance and the power to get people moving. Therefore, freedom of speech and expression must be defended all over the world. They don’t come as a given.”

Many security residency artists want to return to their home country to defend democracy as soon as it is possible.

That’s how it worked also Kahyana, who returned to Uganda after a three-month visit to Finland. Here, however, he had time for a lot: meeting colleagues through the Nuoren Voima Liito and the Writers’ Union, finishing a poem and starting a collaborative project with the Iranian political cartoonist Kianoush Ramezan.

“We just met Kahyana in Berlin, and she said that she has not faced any threats in Uganda and that she has more students than ever. In his lectures, he teaches, among other things, how poetry and literature can be used as a weapon in the opposition fight.”


2022 state awards

  • The state art commissions have awarded the 2022 state awards to distinguished artists, working groups and art communities. A total of 15 state prizes were awarded and their total amount is 360,000 euros.

  • Children’s culture: actress, artistic director Alexandra Mangs and director, dramaturg and artistic director Annika Åman

  • Architecture: construction researcher Erkki Mäkiö

  • Design: Professor, textile artist Kirsi Niinimäki

  • Film art: director, screenwriter Teemu Nikki and producer, screenwriter Jani Pösö

  • Media art: visual artist Anni Puolakka

  • Performing arts: choreographer-dancer Elina Pirinen and Q theater

  • Literature: author Kari Hotakainen and translators Ville Keynäs and Anu Partanen

  • Music: musician, composer Hector and composer Riikka Talvitie

  • Fine art: visual artist Jussi Kivi

  • Photographic art: photo artist Hannele Rantala

  • Multi-art: film and theater director, Pauliina Feodoroff as screenwriter

  • Award for social impact of art: Artists at Risk (AR) activity


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