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Initiative

New York City Safe Haven Program

  • Rashwan Abdelbaki, AFI's current artist in residence @ Westbeth
  • The first fellows of the New York City Safe Haven Prototype: Kanchana Ugbabe (2018) and Hadi Nasiri (2017).  
  • View of Westbeth building from Christopher street.
  • Painter Stephen Hallen's studio, 2018.

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.

Current Fellows

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.

Fordham University’s newest faculty addition, Kanchana Ugbabe, 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.  

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.

Partners

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.

Past Events

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
6:30–10:00 p.m
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.

General Admission: $20


Liminal States

Saturday, April 21, 2018
2:30–4:00 p.m
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.

General Admission: $15 

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