Aid A – Aid for Artists in Exile is a German nonprofit organization that supports artists around the world who have been threatened in their home countries for advocating for artistic freedom, democracy, and human rights and are therefore prevented from continuing their work. Aid A helps at-risk visual artists, writers, filmmakers, and musicians pursue their craft by providing resources and funds to both artists who have been forced to flee and live in exile and those remaining in their home country.
Aid A primarily assists imprisoned, exiled, and persecuted artists and journalists through professional support by providing funds for them to advance their creative activities. Such support includes the facilitation of events, publications, and other like platforms that draw attention to the plight of threatened artists. Aid A’s support strives to both defend persecuted artists and amplify their stories and creative work.
Aid A is comprised of an executive board, general assembly, and members. Currently, Christiane Filla and Anna Schildt serve on the Aid A executive board. Filla, who has worked as an actress, lecturer and presenter came to know theater director Anna Schildt in 2008. Ever since, the two have collaborated on theater projects and advocacy work surrounding the risks artists face and efforts to improve their situations. Filla and Schildt have served on the Aid A board together since 2017.
Aid A has its foundational roots in the former French organization, AIDA (Association Internationale de Défense des Artistes victimes de la répression dans le monde). AIDA was founded in 1979 by Patrice Chéreau and Ariane Mnouchkine after the controversial arrest of late Czechoslovakian writer and dissident, Václav Havel and other artists who supported Charta 77, a civil rights movement in Czechoslovakia. Many of the artists who signed the Charta 77 manifesto were arrested and put on trial. After two delegations of AIDA were expelled from Czechoslovakia, Mnouchkine’s Théâtre du Soleil staged Procès de Prague, a reconstitution of the trial of the members of Charta 77. Mnouchkine appealed to artists and members of the audience to defend their persecuted colleagues and artists. After Procès de Prague’s performance in Germany in 1980, a German branch of AIDA was formed. Aid A, retaining the original letters but forming a new name, continues much of the work started by AIDA, with a slight shift in focus over the years.
In addition to Václav Havel, Aid A has defended numerous artists and projects over its lifespan. Wei Jingsheng, for example, has been supported by Aid A for over three decades. Wei Jingsheng has fought for human rights and democracy in China since 1976, when a high profile democratic movement developed in Beijing. Wei Jinsheng, along with other artists and activists, displayed his political art along a brick wall in a call to action against the Communist Party, demanding democratic reform. Jinsheng was immediately arrested, and after a very public trial, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
When Ariane Mnouchkine learned of the case, she immediately began writing a play depicting the trial. The play was performed in Paris in 1984 and was well received. Wei Jinsheng was imprisoned for 19 years before finally being deported to the United States of America, largely due to the heightened visibility of his plight from Mnouchkine’s artistic and diplomatic efforts. Aid A continues to support Wei Jinsheng’s foundation and other advocacy work for the democratization of his home country.
More recently, Aid A has worked with Zimbabwean performance artist Silvanos Mudzvova after Mudzvova learned about them through ARC’s database. Mudzvova has been known to relentlessly criticize Zimbabwean authorities for their repressive policies. In 2017, he wrote a play titled King of Mutapa, a satirical one-person show comparing oppressive 18th-century rulers to modern politicians. Mudzvova was repeatedly arrested and tortured under former President Robert Mugabe’s administration for speaking out in favor of LGBT rights and democracy in Zimbabwe.
Aid A produced, organized, and financed the world premiere of King of Mutapa in Hamburg. The organization paid Mudzvova’s fees, theater and rental costs, travel expenses, and accommodation, as well as for Björn Norrgård, who performed music for the play. Aid A also organized and financed a recording of the performance. With the help of Aid A, Mudzvova has been given the opportunity to perform at more theaters and festivals worldwide.
At the start of May 2018, Aid A held a thrilling event at a commune called Amargi, a cultural space in Hamburg, Germany. The event engaged exiled artists and other creative minds in an effort to learn more about their work and struggles. Aid A board members also worked with university representatives and other organizations in the area to strengthen ties with the city and spread awareness of the conditions these exiled artists face.
Recently, Aid A collaborated with ARC to support political graffiti artist, Taeyong Jeong. When former Berlin mayor, Klaus Wowereit, donated a part of the Berlin Wall to Seoul, South Korea in 2005 as a sign of peace and in hopes of the unification of North and South Korea, Taeyong Jeong saw this as a step in the right direction. On June 6, 2018, the artist sprayed a portion of the wall in a pattern resembling the Korean flag as a celebration of the first North Korea-South Korea summit meeting. Jeong, not having permission to create the piece, was arrested and charged with destruction of public goods on August 27, 2018. He was put on trial, where the prosecution asked for a one-year prison sentence. Jeong felt misunderstood by local media and reached out to human rights organizations for help, and ARC and Aid A stepped in. ARC connected Jeong with human rights lawyer Andra Matei, who represented him in court. Though the artist was ultimately fined $5,000 and asked to remove his art from the wall in April 2019, Jeong was not imprisoned. Aid A covered the costs of Taeyong Jeong’s trial and fees and helped ensure his freedom.
“Writing can not feed the writer, we always have to work, but this distracts us from writing, there is simply not enough time. With the scholarship, I can now completely immerse myself in the world of my characters and live with them. For me this means great liberty,” said writer and Aid A scholarship recipient Rosa Yassin Hassan. Aid A supports Hassan's new novel and has worked to find her a publisher and organize readings. Aid A’s resources, paired with their extensive advocacy work fighting for artistic freedom, helps allow artists like Hassan, Jeong, and Mudzvova to create.
In addition to collaborating on Taeyong Jeong’s case, ARC frequently refers artists at risk to Aid A for assistance and support. Aid A not only assists persecuted artists but also shines a light on their art, and their efforts over the past decades have made them an integral part of ARC’s core network.
By Anna Schultz, November 2019. Anna is pursuing a B.A. at Sarah Lawrence College, concentrating on politics and history. She hopes to use her academic studies and her passion for art to advance sociopolitical progress and defend human rights.