New York City Safe Haven Program
The New York City Safe Haven Residency Prototype was developed in response to the complex challenges inherent in supporting threatened artists. Recognizing that no single institution or service provider can adequately address every aspect of support required for threatened artists, a coalition of organizations was formed to provide this support collectively. This coalition is growing, but currently includes the Artistic Freedom Initiative (AFI), ArtistSafety.net, Fordham University, PEN America with the Artists at Risk Connection, Residency Unlimited, and Westbeth Artist Housing. Each of these organizations is experienced and well positioned to apply a unique skill set, which includes providing housing, legal services, professional development, community engagement, and access to psychosocial support. In this manner, the coalition is able to successfully respond to the intersecting needs of artists under threat.
Following several years of development, two studio units were opened. The program was officially launched in July 2017 with the arrival of its first AFI's artist in residence, Hadi Nasiri, activist, artist and researcher. In June 2018, Rashwan Abdelbaki, a Syrian-born multi-medium artist, was welcomed as the second resident of this unit. In November 2017, Indian-born writer Kanchana Ugbabe from Nigeria started living in the second unit.
The program aims to activate up to six safe haven residency apartments within the Westbeth Artist Community over the next several years. Each residence is being developed in partnership with an organization working towards free expression, within the context of social justice and human rights.
Mai Khoi, a musician and composer, rose to stardom in Vietnam in 2010 after winning the Vietnam Television song and album of the year awards. With her stardom, however, came increasing discomfort with government censorship, and an ever-increasing desire to write and perform songs that reflected her experiences in an authoritarian country. Aiming to reform the system from within, Mai Khoi nominated herself to run in the National Assembly elections on a pro-democracy platform. Her unprecedented campaign sparked a nationwide debate about political participation and culminated in a meeting with Barack Obama in May 2016 during his state visit to Vietnam.
Shortly after, Mai Khoi started the avant-garde dissident trio Mai Khoi Chém Gió (“Mai Khoi and the Dissidents”) and the group released their debut album “Dissent” in 2018. Working at the intersection of art and activism, Mai Khoi has developed her most personal musical style to date. Her new sound is an emotionally-charged fusion of free jazz and ethnic Vietnamese music, with her most political, yet personal, song lyrics ever. Mai Khoi has leds efforts to promote freedom of artistic expression in Vietnam for which she was awarded the Vaclav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent.
Her activism has, however, come at a high price, and severely impacted her life in Vietnam. She has had her concerts raided, been evicted from her house, been detained and interrogated by the police, and, since the November 2019 world premiere of the documentary “Mai Khoi and the Dissidents” at DocNYC, been unable to return to her home in Hanoi. In collaboration with Tamizdat, Mai Khoi will be spending the three months of her "SHIM NYC" residency developing an autobiographical song cycle.
Felix Kaputu, originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has worked at universities around the world since 1988, including in Africa, the USA, Japan, and Belgium. He has written six books on topics such as HIV/AIDS and women’s rights in Africa, as well as a number of works of fiction. His research focuses on comparative literature, gender studies, religion and shamanism, cultural connections, and social identity construction patterns in global perspectives. In 2016, he was an ICORN fellow in Poland and then was hosted for two years by Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil.
Rashwan Abdelbaki is a Syrian-born multi-medium artist specializing in painting, etching, engraving, digital art, installation, and video. Rashwan’s work emerges in the context of the ongoing Syrian war and the underlying social crises currently being experienced by the citizens of the Middle East. His paintings have been shown in Syria, Lebanon, the UK, and the US. Recent solo shows include One Eye Open: Paintings by Rashwan Abdelbaki at George Mason University, Little Syria at the Metropolitan College of New York, Light Up The Darkness at Dar Al Mussawir in Beirut, Lebanon, and A Moment at Al Hamra Theatre in Damascus, Syria.
Kanchana Ugbabe, Fordham University’s newest faculty addition, is a writer and academic who was born and raised in Chennai, India—but it was Jos, Nigeria, where she spent three decades with her husband and children, and where her once peaceful life grew threatened by a climate of violence and uncertainty. Ugbabe’s stories have been read on the air for BBC World Service. Her collection of short stories, Soulmates, was published by Penguin in 2011. Ugbabe has also edited two collections of essays on the writings of the Nigerian novelist Chukwuemeka Ike. Her work has been published in international journals, and she has contributed three chapters to the Dictionary of Literary Biography, focusing on African writers.
Hadi Nasiri is an activist/artist/researcher, whose work has encompassed performance, painting, sculpture, graphic design, and political protest exploring themes about the relationship of religion (specifically Islam) to women's rights, LGBTI rights, sexuality, and political ideology. His artistic experiences are informed by his human and women’s rights activism; wherein he has established an underground woman's right organization, Afarinesh hay e-Irani, in Bandar Abbas, Iran, and gave a public speech at the school titled, "What the Qur'an Really Says About Hijab." Both actions resulted in his arrest by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, where he was interrogated and detained briefly. Hadi is still researching through his art practices to re-define keywords like democracy, freedom, sexuality. As an example, the word, "democracy" seems to have a clear meaning, but in different societies its definition not make sense to people living there. When used in a consumer society, the practice of the word is contrary to expectation.
Engaging Art and Social Justice
In offering at-risk artists the opportunity to relocate to New York City, this program supports important voices for free expression, tolerance, creative cultural exchange, and international understanding. The coalition and its partners are committed to working with resident artists to support their campaigns for social justice both during their stay in New York City and beyond.
We work with artist residents to organize panel discussions, forums, exhibitions, performances, and screenings, thus introducing them to New York’s broader artistic community and to the concerned public, so that their stories and experiences can reach a new and wider audience. Further, we connect them to the diaspora communities in the New York region both for support and dialogue. Our artist residents are placed at the Westbeth, a housing community of artists with a strong history of working together on local, regional and national issues of political and social concern. We would also hope that by drawing these artists into the larger international community, their voices will be amplified so that they can accomplish more when they return home, do so safely, and support colleagues who find themselves in similar situations.
Artist at Risk Connection aims to safeguard the right to artistic freedom of expression and to ensure that artists everywhere can live and work without fear. This international collaboration of more than 700 organizations working to protect artistic freedom works to deepen, expand, and improve the resources available to artists who face violence, harassment, and threats because of their creative work.
Artistic Freedom Initiative is a group of human rights activists, lawyers, academics, and artists working together to advance and promote artistic freedom and peaceful dialogue through art. The organization provides legal support services for artists seeking to relocate to the USA.
ArtistSafety.net is a volunteer and consultancy network that provides case management for artists at risk due to their work. On local, regional, and international levels, volunteers collaborate to provide peer advocacy and emergency response.
Fordham University, founded in 1841, is New York City's only Jesuit university. Fordham University's spirit comes from the nearly 500-year history of the Jesuits. It’s the spirit of full-hearted engagement—with profound ideas, with communities around the world, with injustice, with beauty, with the entirety of the human experience.
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.
Residency Unlimited supports contemporary art through its unique residency program (NY-based, national, and international exchanges) and year-round public programs. It facilitates connections in and outside of the art world, offers hands-on production and technical assistance, and provides professional development opportunities.
Westbeth Artists Housing is a facility designed with the intention of
providing affordable living and working spaces for artists and their
families in New York City.
Kanchana Ugbabe will be a participating artist at The Believer Festival in Las Vegas, NV on April 13-14, 2018. The Believer Festival is a two-day roving celebration of writing, music, and visual arts. In the heart of the desert of southern Nevada, established and emerging artists, comedians, literary luminaries, and the Las Vegas arts community come together & divine a creative oasis.
Literary Quest: Westbeth Edition
Friday, April 20, 2018
Westbeth Artists Housing, 55 Bethune Street
Experience the artist’s life in one of New York’s leading artist housing communities. The artist-residents of this cultural institution open their homes for intimate, salon-style readings and conversations with Festival authors, followed by cocktails in their legendary gallery. With Nachoem Wijnberg, Rupert Thomson, Ashley Hay, Susan Kuklin, Basma Abdel Aziz, Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, Trifonia Melibea Obono, Sharon Bala, Demian Vitanza, Alicia Kopf, Hadi Nasiri, Kanchana Ugbabe, Ayse Kulin and Leni Zumas. Co-presented with the Westbeth Artists Residents Council and the partners of the New York Safe Havens Prototype.
Saturday, April 21, 2018
SubCulture, 45 Bleecker Street
Transitions can be powerful or they can be disconcerting, delirious or even dangerous. Whether they are across national borders, across cultures, or across sexual identities, reconciling the old and the new can be accompanied by pain or by joy, or lead to a new awareness and identity. In her debut novel, Freshwater Akwaeke Emezi explores how the West and traditional Igbo culture can inform identity. Kanchana Ugbabe, an Indian author who has found refuge from the violence in her hometown in Nigeria, writes of the dual vision of the insider and outsider. And in Disoriental, filmmaker and author Negar Djavadi, who fled from Iran to France with her family at age 11, writes of the need to “disintegrate” before you can integrate into a new culture. Powerful fiction and memoir give us insights into the threshold spaces of culture and identity these women occupy. Co-presented with Fordham University.