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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

The 2009 Freedom To Create Prize Awards at the V&A

Artists activists earn major exposure with top creative expression awards

Written by Valerie Pezeron

Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa Front cover - The 99Illustration by Naif Al-Mutawa courtesy of PagetBaker Associates

What do you do when your freedom of expression has been seriously hampered? What happens when an artist has to muster all the courage and strength in the world to plough on amidst censorship, viagra buy opposition, intimidation and threats? The Freedom to Create Prize aims to encourage and support artists all over the world who operate in a stifling climate where they are isolated. Created as “a celebration of the courage and creativity of artists around the world who use their talent to build the foundation of open societies, promote social justice and inspire the human spirit”1., this prize is unique in that it celebrates the power of art to fight oppression, break down stereotypes and build trust in societies broken by conflict, violence and misunderstanding.

image009Photograph of Moshen Makhmalbaf courtesy of PagetBaker Associates

There are more than 1,000 entrants from Africa, Asia, Latin America, eastern Europe and the Middle East and Human Rights advocate Bianca Jagger presented the main prize yesterday night to Moshen Makhmalbaf, the Iranian filmmaker dedicated to the Green Movement. “People of my country (Iran) are killed, imprisoned, tortured and raped just for their votes. Every award I receive means an opportunity for me to echo their voices to the world, asking for democracy for Iran and peace for the world.” Guests from the worlds of art and the human rights attended the reception in the grand surroundings of the Victoria and Albert museum. The prize is worth $50,000, but they give half to an organization that will advance the cause their work highlights. Representatives from Burmese refugee women’s group The Kumjing Storytellers who use giant paper maché dolls to represent their stories of ethnic persecution in Burma and the plight of migrants and refugees from around the world received the second place prize winner, The director from The Zugdidi Shalva Dadiani State Drama Theatre, David Alan Harris from Poimboi Veeyah Koindu and Sheenkai Alam Stanikzai were all there along with last year’s inaugural winner, the Zimbabwean dramatist Cont Mhlanga.

image002Logo courtesy of PagetBaker Associates

Set up by Richard Chandler, a billionaire New Zealand-born philanthropist based in Singapore, the arts prize shines a light into those parts of the world where creative freedom is not a given. This year alone, we have had the Obama cartoon in The New Yorker and Osama Bin Laden as a cameo on family Guy; there are societies in greatest need but these awards is a reminder that we must always remember not to take for granted the civil liberties we enjoy in this country. In 2006, a Kuwaiti doctor, Naif Al-Mutawa, launched a comic called The 99, featuring 99 superheroes, each based on a virtue expounded in the Koran. “Some of the more conservative places in the world weren’t so happy to let The 99 in,” he says.

Graham CrouchArtist Sheenkai Alam Stanikzai. Photograph courtesy of PagetBaker Associates

Women artists are showing strong pieces this year; Third- prize winner Sheenkai Alam Stanikzai has created an installation piece about the traditional suicide method of abused Afghan women: “I recognized the similarity between these ancient events and contemporary world events, so I decided to show my feelings about what is happening: more than 40 women are dying every day.” Pakistan’s Sheema Kermani entered a series of dance and theatre pieces about the veil, polygamy, sexual abuse and honor killings: For long periods, it has been almost like a life underground,” she says.

View-of-Installation-work-bInstallation by  Sheenkai Alam Stanikzai. Photograph courtesy of PagetBaker Associates

Judges in attendance included leading international human rights lawyer and jurist on the UN’s Internal Justice Council Geoffrey Robertson QC, BBC arts correspondent Razia Iqbal, Time Out founder and chair of Human Rights Watch Tony Elliot, and award-winning Anglo-Indian artist Sacha Jafri. Nick Broomfield presented the Imprisoned Artist Prize; Geoffrey Robertson QC presented the Youth Prize. And there was an enjoyable performance by Emmanuel Jal.

It is suitably symbolic that the awards ceremony took place in the UK, home of the Magna Charta as it shows that engaged artists are not alone in this fight. Prosperous societies are founded upon creativity. Britain has a history of encouraging artistic expression and is a leader in showing other countries how to build strong foundations for economic, political and cultural development in order to lead tomorrow’s world. Political cartooning is a great British institution that prides itself in rocking the boat and rightfully getting away with it! Freedom to Create is a worthy initiative; their desire to seek to improve lives by addressing society’s ability to support and sustain creativity is to be commended. In the end, everyone was a winner!

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