© Artwatch
Genre : Cultural projects
Contact details Nadia Nkwaya
Column : History/society
Published on : 30/01/2014
Source :

The vitality of artistic creativity is necessary for the development of vibrant cultures and the functioning of democratic societies. Artistic expressions and creations are integral parts of cultural life. Yet, artistic expressions and creative practitioners come under particular risk because they convey specific messages, present alternative ideas that challenge the status quo or are considered to do so. In the recent times, there has been a growing interest in the question of freedom of creative expression. In the year 2012 a milestone was achieved with the holding of the first World Conference on Artistic Freedom of Expression in Norway which was organized by Freemuse and Fritt Ord, and followed by the founding of the Arts and Freedom of Expression Network (ARTSFEX). Artsfex is an international, civil society network of organisations and individuals actively concerned with the right of artists to freedom of expression. A second milestone was the report made earlier this year, by the United Nations special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Farida Shaheed on The Right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity. The exhaustive report was based on responses received from 28 States and 23 other stakeholders to a globally administered questionnaire. Following this trail in the global effort to protect the right to artistic expression, Arterial Network, in collaboration with Mimeta, and in line with its mandate of defending artists' rights, is establishing ArtWatch Africa, a project aimed at monitoring the challenges and constraints on freedom of creative expression in African countries, including the various forms of censorship that prevail in some countries. By exposing the contravention of freedom of creative expression and by supporting artists and other creative practitioners to assert and practice this right, ArtWatch Africa will contribute to developing democracy and human rights in Africa. This will in turn empower individuals to act in their interests and help to build Arterial Network national chapters across the continent. ARTWATCH AFRICA REPORT 2013 Following a mapping exercise covering 70% of Africa in 2011 and 2012, Arterial Network released its first preliminary report on the state of freedom of creative expression in Africa in 2013. The focus of this assessment was to collect data on the presence of repression in African countries and their current state. These repressions most commonly take the form of social marginalization in its various shades and government censorship. In this vein, legal frameworks, religion, societal norms, traditions and general government practices were examined. The outcome of the exercise was a series of country profiles on the status of artistic freedom. The 2013 report is an important first step towards understanding restrictions of freedoms of creative expression on the continent. Nevertheless, this preliminary report is by no means exhaustive and requires further verification and ongoing research with the aim of producing an annual report that can be widely distributed. The different country profiles of this report showed that artists remain at particular risk in certain countries. As their work depends on visibly engaging people in the public domain, states, religious and social groups often try to interfere by blocking their different world views and alternative narratives. There are very serious instances of contraventions to, and restrictions of, freedom of creative expression on the African continent. Even in countries like Namibia and Seychelles, with relatively good or high levels of artistic freedoms, there is still work to be done in order to mitigate the impact of visible and invisible restrictions. The following will give an idea of the trends in terms of freedom of creative expression on the African continent. GENERAL TRENDS ACROSS THE AFRICAN CONTINENT Legal Framework: The majority of African countries expressly assert or support cultural rights and freedom of expression in their constitutions, in some laws or in regional and international conventions to which they are signatories. There is a disparity of situations on the continent. Some countries, such as Seychelles, have ratified the main documents protecting freedom of creative expression while others, like Somalia and Eritrea do not have a constitution. Some constitutions expressly protect freedom of creative expression through the protection of "artistic creation" or "artistic creativity". Others protect the right to "artistic/creative expression", freedom of creation", "artistic endeavor", or "cultural creativity", or make reference to freedom of the arts. Many constitutions protect the artistic freedom implicitly through the rights to freedom of expression, to participate in cultural life, to access culture and cultural development. Although a majority of countries has adopted cultural policy frameworks, these policies are rarely accompanied with implementation and monitoring mechanisms. People impacted: The report shows that obstacles to freedom of creative expression impact not only the artists themselves but also a wide range of people who participate in the creation, production, distribution and dissemination of artwork. It also highlights that some categories of the population are more specifically targeted. In countries such as Mauritania, Sudan and Rwanda, women artists or women wishing to engage in an artistic career are likely to be marginalized. In Senegal, Mauritania, Egypt, and Niger, artists from ethnic and religious minorities are also impacted by restrictions to artistic freedom. Mauritania and Niger are countries that still have a rigid caste system that favours "noble-borns", while artists and griots remain part of a specific lower caste. In the south of Benin for instance, fabric dying is the exclusivity of the royal family Yemadje. Drum making and drum rhythm creations are also limited to certain families. A similar restriction is also found in Rwanda where women are traditionally not allowed to be drummers. Religious restrictions It appears that the more religious the country is, the more artists are threatened. Islam The rise of fundamentalist movements such as Al-Shabaab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria has a very negative impact on freedom of creative expression. In the northern regions of Cameroon, the influences of foreign religious extremist groups such as Boko Haram have led to the emergence of censorship towards artwork referred to as "immoral social phenomena" because it is associated with pornography, homosexuality and prostitution. The strict imposition of Sharia law and its censorship on many forms of non-religious music is the most notable restriction on artistic freedom. Under the Islamic legal code, issues relating to gender, sexuality and sexual orientation, in relation to religion and morals, are highly controversial and subject to censorship and punishment. In Northern Mali for instance, September 2012 saw the ban by Islamic militants of all music in the country. The armed militants sent death threats to local musicians, many were forced into exile. Live music venues were shut down and militants set fire to guitars and drum kits. Artists in Libya also struggle and have been accused of blasphemy or religious defamation. Christianity Islam is not the only religion restricting freedom of creative expression. Indeed, in many Christian countries, artworks addressing, representing or exposing nudity are usually prohibited and associated with pornography. In this regard, Uganda seems to be a very restrictive Christian country. Artworks that represent or expose nudity generally fall under the 2010 anti-pornography bill. References to, or descriptions of, homosexual relationships in literature, music and visual arts are criminalized and may fall under the 2009 Anti-Homosexuality Bill. In Rwanda and the DRC, the influence of"Christian revival" churches is growing and play a major role in the restrictions of freedom of creative expression. They have their own TV and radio channels and the trend is to censure all non-Christian music considered as pagan, satanic, against religious precepts or as vehicle of witchcraft. Animist beliefs In Benin, artistic activities or artworks affected by restrictions include those quoting sacred texts or using religious symbols or figures. For example, artists are prohibited to adopt or imitate in their creations, the garnments of the gods (Sapata, god of the earth, Ninssouhwé, god of water or Egun god of ancestors). Another prohibition is related to the divine chants. Artists are not allowed to reproduce the melodies or the lyrics of songs performed in the temples of deities. This results in aesthetic restrictions. Political restrictions African governments seem to be ambivalent in their positions towards freedom of expression. On one hand they generally embrace fundamental human rights and freedoms while on the other hand they have a tendency to give themselves escape clauses where they may use law and order as legitimate means to deny people these rights and freedoms. Quite a number of them are also non-committal and officially, the idea of contemporary culture is too vague & inconsistent, while their idea of traditional culture is too minimal and underestimated. States often refer to the necessity of regulating the dissemination of artistic expressions considered to, for example, call for discrimination, hatred and violence against specific groups or person, amount to drug propaganda or contain pornographic content. The necessity to protect children and adolescents against specific content, such as extreme violence or pornography, the right to privacy and the moral and material rights of authors has also been mentioned in feedback from numerous countries. Sometimes, political restrictions originate in the traditions of the country. In many countries, public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority, are not subject to criticism and political opposition. In Uganda, Zimbabwe and other countries, for instance, election time is usually a very dangerous time for artists who deploy political critique in their work. In Malawi, Insulting the President is an offence protected by the 1967 Protected Flag, Emblems and Names Act. Any person deemed to show disrespectful reference to the President, is be liable to a fine of £1,000 and to imprisonment for two years. In this regard, the Kingdom of Swaziland appears to be the most restrictive. Any subject dealing with the political environment or criticizing government can never be broadcasted. Furthermore, there is series of unwritten laws and customs restricting directly or indirectly to artistic freedom. Concepts such as Umlomo Longacali Manga - "the king cannot lie" or Kubulawa - "the king cannot be wrong" often result in a limitation of artistic freedom because artists are not allowed to critique the Head of Government. Censorship Censorship in Africa exists in many different forms. Censorship practices are still imposed at various stages of artistic creation. Responses to the questionnaire indicate that a number of states still have censorship enshrined in their constitutions. Although informal censorship exists, many countries have set up bodies entrusted with the responsibility of censoring artworks. These bodies are usually authorized to issue distribution restrictions in the area of press, movies and entertainment. In Tunisia, religious censorship committees have been established. These censorship committees have the power to allow or to ban the publishing of books, theatre plays, dance productions and films. A "visa system" for activity authorisation requires acquiring the relevant "visa" before producing art or raising funds. In Malawi, the 1968 Censorship and Control of Entertainments Act regulates films, public entertainment and publications for the sake of public morals. Self-censorship is also very common. It usually results from a legacy of years of oppression where artists couldn't express freely their views or critique political or social systems. This fear is experienced as a social norm and results in the stunting and holding back of creative expression. In too many cases, regulations are implemented without consistency by non-transparent mechanisms with no possibility of appeal. Cinema and music are at particular risk here. Economic and financial issues: Responses to the questionnaire stress that the main impediments artists encounter in their work is their precarious economic and social situations. In Namibia for instance, there is a wide-spread economic exploitation of artists and their skills by arts managers, governmental institutions and even corporate funders. This in turn obviously affects freedom of creative expression. A similar situation prevails in Malawi where arts practitioners are vulnerable to government intimidation because government is the main source of funding and recognition. In Mauritius, an artist was denied funding from public funds under the pretext that the content of his play might potentially create a diplomatic incident. Public funds or other perks are sometimes used to intimidate or censor artists in many countries. With regards to government inputs in the culture sector, it is important to notice that on average, the budget allocated to culture in African countries rarely exceeds 0,55% of the total budget of the country, with a minimum of 0,17% (Côte D'Ivoire), and a maximum of 1,25% (Tunisia). This data is not available in: Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Libya, Sudan and South Sudan. Cases of Repression A wide variety of mechanisms of repression/oppression have been reported in countries covered during the research. The most common form of repression are threats, followed by arrests, harassment, blacklisting and social marginalization, and finally, attacks. Somalia and Eritrea are countries where are death and kidnapping have been reported. Physical punishment is also found in Sudan and South Sudan. GET INVOLVED: In 2014, Arterial Network will be implementing the next phase of this project. This will include the appointment of a project coordinator to lead the following core activities: documentation and reporting on abuses of freedom of creative expression; monitoring the progress of governments who have signed international conventions; providing human rights training for the creative sector; undertaking ongoing research and producing the first Artwatch Africa report for public consumption. Arterial Network is keen to hear from those with information regarding work in the field of freedom of creative expression. Information being sought includes: 1) Who are the African researchers/academics working in this field? 2) What initiatives are taking place currently? 3) Who are the artists engaged in defending freedom of creative expression/or freedom of expression on the continent? 4) Which African institutions (e.g. Universities, think tanks, etc.) have an interest or are actively working in this field? 5) What existing spaces (e.g. Festivals, workshops) are encouraging freedom of creative expression? In short, we are looking for individuals with a vested interest in this work to assist in building databases and a knowledge resource that will be made available to the public via our website in 2014. For more info, please contact: Nadia Nkwaya Research Manager - Arterial Network 25 Commercial Street Cape Town 8001 E-mail: Tel: +27 21 465 90 27

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