The 2016 Freemuse report Art Under Threat recorded 1028 attacks on artists across 78 countries. Out of these documented incidents, 188 were recorded as serious violations of artistic freedom, and 840 were acts of censorship.
The relationship between art and social justice is an old one, but one that needs to be constantly re-examined in light of ever-changing policies and laws on issues such as censorship, the right to peaceful assembly, the right to asylum, the right to express oneself, the right to express opinions critical of existing government structures, social systems and economic measures.
While several organizations work on the alleviation and addressal of human rights violations, there are specific institutions, organizations and resources that have evolved with the intent of providing more streamlined support to artists who find themselves in situations of conflict. These organizations work with writers, journalists, poets, visual artists, musicians and performance artists who find themselves in deeply uncomfortable situations, having been deprived of access to certain fundamental freedoms and rights, either by the nation state, a certain religious sect, or the public at large.
For those of you interested, here is a list of international organizations that are doing great work in alleviating, counselling and rehabilitating artists in conflict, allowing them the opportunity to live freely and create their works.
An international organization advocating and defending artistic freedom, Freemuse carries out the very important function of monitoring and recording violations of artistic freedom across the globe. Tracking these violations is a challenging task for any organization, considering that such incidents often go unreported. Having said that, Freemuse has been doing a wonderful job of recording these incidents and turning out reports, including the annual Art Under Threat report, to give us a more global view of the violations against creative speech and expression.
This is an organization that is dedicated to working with writers facing human rights violations. Strong advocates of free speech and expression, Pen International provides support to writers—including poets, journalists and authors—and tackles issues such as freedom of expression, linguistic rights, the right to education and advocacy efforts. They provide assistance to writers in conflict situations by advising and connecting them to those who can offer them the necessary sociopolitical help.
ICORN stands for International Cities of Refuge Network. It is an independent network of cities that offer safe haven to writers at risk. The network provides writers with long-term, but temporary shelter, in an effort to remove them from situations of extreme violence, oppression and or harassment, so as to provide them and their families with the chance to lead secure lives.
Arterial Network is a pan-African civil society network of creative professionals, cultural activists, and stakeholders, working towards strengthening regional associations on issues related to cultural advocacy, lobbying and artist rights. The network is responsible for overseeing advocacy and capacity-building in the realm of cultural policy, with a heavy emphasis on empowering artists with the tools to protect themselves in situations of risk.
Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) is a recent initiative aimed at connecting artists with the necessary resources, professionals and advice to help them when faced with situations of conflict, oppression and risk. A wonderful website, it provides updated and relevant international connections to facilitate effective resolution.
Index on Censorship campaigns for and defends free expression. The organization is responsible for producing some of the most informative documentation on incidents of censorship and free speech violations.
The Arts Rights Justice Academy is a week-long training program aimed at connecting and promoting information sharing among cultural policymakers, advocates, artists, and other important stakeholders.
We hope to update this list and welcome your additions and suggestions. Please feel free to leave us links and recommendations to organisations working on these issues, in the comments below.