May 23, 2023

Freedom of Expression as a universal human right, a main pillar of democracy, and a prerequisite for artistic creativity are under threat in our world today. Carving out a space for free expression has always been a high–cost fight for artists under autocratic rule. Today, that space is contested even in established western democracies that have traditionally provided safe havens for prosecuted artists from the global south.

The current backdrop of violent setbacks to peaceful popular uprisings, the rise of authoritarian political movements and regimes, anti-democratic attacks on elected assemblies, the concentration of power in a handful of business moguls and media systems, rising social and economic inequalities, and the war in Europe, has created fundamental uncertainty about freedoms that had been taken for granted for many decades.

The dream of reaching solutions to global challenges through economic growth has been shattered by a pandemic that questioned the ability of some of our existing systems to combine economic growth with social welfare. A retreat to local and national interests is undermining the role of our universal rights systems to guide us into finding equitable solutions to serious global challenges, like climate change, migration, health and inequality. This is creating a vacuum of despair easily filled by fake news formed by popular opinions, manipulated social media interactions, narratives of conspiracy, exclusion and protectionism, and alternative hegemonies.

Many artists and cultural producers around the world are trying to salvage a space for free expression, where the stories of what we experience are told from diverse places and perspectives, building narratives of inclusivity. A space where we can hear, feel and reflect on how our universal crises manifest themselves on individuals and communities living in contexts and under value systems, that maybe different to ours. In such a space, the more local the story is, the more global empathy it could inspire. Such flow of art from local to international, is no longer exclusively dominated by global north art centers. New global south hubs are emerging and gradually claiming ownership over who tells the story, to which audiences and under what conditions.

This session will present you with fresh and exciting models of international artistic exchange and networks of solidarity from some of these new hubs in Africa and the Middle East, as well as established, forward-looking ones in Norway and Europe. The session will also give the floor to the artists themselves, to tell their own story of journeys they made from local to international projects, and from contexts of risk to safer havens. The session aspires to do a reality check on how truly possible it is to carve a space for artistic freedoms in our world of today. How can this space inspire imagination for alternative inclusive solutions to our universal crises? What does it take from different players, both in established democracies and in contexts still struggling under autocratic regimes, to protect that space? Are we all doing enough?

Session introduction:
Cato Litangen, Director MIMETA

Laila Hourani, Program Director, MIMETA

Mimeta and ICORN organized WEXFO 2023 Side Event

Participating in this event