Nominees for the 2022 Freedom of Expression Awards - Arts
Meet the four shortlisted artists for this year's award
16 May 2022
BY INDEX ON CENSORSHIP
Yemeni artist Thiyazen Al-Alawi uses his craft to shed light on the destructive situation in Yemen through street art campaigns. He hopes to inform the public of what the war has done to his homeland.
First inspired by the Arab Spring in 2011 as a teenager, Thiyazen turned to art as a form of self expression, launching his first street art campaign in 2012 as the war began. As conflict invaded every aspect of Yemeni life, he decided “every artwork is proof of their existence and continuity in life…something that gives people hope.” Thiyazen’s work aims to reflect the ugliest and truest forms of war, and its effect on real people.
Thiyazen’s latest project is a collaboration with British artist Luc Waring titled “Letters from Yemen”, a series of drawings and letters from conversations between the two about art, peace, war, and the horrors Thiyazen has witnessed himself. Inspired by a saying Thiyazen heard in his youth, the walls must do the talking when the newspapers are silent; the compiled writings and portraits raise awareness about the war in Yemen with a sensitivity and humanity only an artist and their medium can produce, eventually gaining traction and attention by the public. Due to the ongoing occupation by the Houthi militia, Thiyazen is risking his own safety as he continues to produce art.
Thiyazen continues his work on long-term projects with the Swiss Arts Council to spread awareness about the conditions in Yemen. He also contributes to the “Yemen Peace Forum” with the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, writing articles and studies like “Art and Youth in Yemen” in the Journal of Transitional Justice of the University of Oxford. “I feel that I must tell the truth no matter what,” Thiyazen explains,” I could sacrifice my life for the truth. And nothing will stop me.”
Mohammed ‘Moe’ Moussa
Moe Moussa is a journalist, podcaster, poet, and the founder of the Gaza Poet Society. He uses various forums and mediums to amplify the voices of Palestinians.
Moe began his career as a translator for international journalists in 2014. He was soon inspired to speak about the situation from his own perspective. Studying English literature in college and growing up around poetry, it was only fitting that Moe decided to use his art to bring the individual lives of people in Gaza to the international audience.
Delving into Palestinian poetry led Moe to connect online with poets all over the world. He was interested in using his skills as a poet and a journalist to share the stories of individual lives with a global audience. After realising the lack of opportunities for poets to share their work in Arabic and English, he created a space to offer an opportunity for young people to speak and find their own voice in 2018 – the Gaza Poet Society. The organisation is supported solely by donations from international poets who believe in Moe’s cause. He is at constant risk of Hamas censorship and at the will of the Gazan government to approve of civilian movement out of the country.
Watching his family go days without water, power, and freedom of movement, Moe temporarily left Gaza for Istanbul in 2021 to continue his work more effectively. He was awarded the Times Richard Beeston Bursary in 2019 and has plans to complete his fellowship in London in 2022 following delays due to the pandemic. As the creator and host of the podcast “Gaza Guy”, he is focused on amplifying the voices of young Palestinians through poetry and fights for access to education in Gaza. Additionally, Moe has contributed to We Are Not Numbers, a site publishing stories of Palestiniain youth experiencing war. Moe recently released his debut poetry collection titled “Flamingo” and is working freelance to support the Gaza Poet Society from abroad.
Fatoş İrwen is a Kurdish artist and teacher from Diyarbakır, Turkey working with a variety of materials and techniques.
İrwen regularly uses her art to document her experiences as a Kurdish woman living in Turkey. The performance piece Füg [Fugue, 2012] documented her first experiences in police custody where she was physically and sexually abused. In 2016 İrwen was again taken into custody while boarding a domestic flight. She was charged with “resisting the police, opposition to the law against demonstrations and assemblies, propaganda for a terrorist organisation, belonging to a terrorist organisation” and sentenced to 3 years, 1 month and 15 days in prison. The charges related to a peaceful protest in 2013.
During her imprisonment, İrwen made 1,500 works of art using materials accessible to her, including hair, tea, food, shoe polish, old textbooks and newspapers, bed sheets, laundry pegs, scarves, and mould and cigarette ashes. Among other projects, the 2019 piece titled “Gülleler” (Cannonballs) features balls crafted from the hair of inmates participating in a hunger strike. “The hunger strike was like firing a shot to the outside world,” İrwen says. After being released, İrwen collected her art pieces in her first solo exhibition titled Exceptional times which was featured at Depo in Istanbul in 2021.
Discussing censorship by the Turkish authorities, İrwen says “this issue still continues to be the most painful issue of our lives and for which we pay a heavy price.” She is deeply committed to fighting for freedom of expression and artistic freedom.
Due to her challenges with Turkish authorities and her identity as a Kurdish woman, İrwen has found that galleries and art spaces are sometimes reluctant to feature her work. Still, she has found success, and her work has been exhibited in Iran, Germany, Austria, Hong Kong, Iceland, France, Mexico, Iran, Morocco, Sweden, and Turkey.
Hamlet Lavastida has been described as a political activist by way of art. Lavastida uses his art to document human rights abuses in Cuba and to criticise Cuban authorities.
Lavastida pushes boundaries of censorship in Cuba and highlights the distinctly Cuban spirit of cultural resistance. His work reconstructs old Cuban political and military propaganda.
Throughout his career, Lavastida has sought to use his art to fight for transparency and freedom of speech in order to fight against the Cuban government. He sees his art as a non-violent tool to fight against the current regime. Lavastida has been involved in various protest movements in Cuba, including the 27N movement which grew out of the protests held on 27 November 2020. The movement works to bring attention to the censorship of artistic expressions in Cuba.
In June 2021, Lavastida was arrested after returning from a residency at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin. He was accused of ‘incitement to commit a crime’ because he suggested that other artists stamp images related to the San Isidro and 27N movements on local currency. Following his arrest, Amnesty International named him as a ‘prisoner of conscience’. Lavastida stayed in prison for 87 days. He was finally released without charges.
Lavastida has been living in exile in Europe since September 2021. He has been warned that he will be arrested immediately if he ever tries to return to Cuba. Lavastida is deeply concerned by the situation. While has experienced threats and censorship targeting his art throughout his career, he is now experiencing threats against him as an individual. He believes this is part of a greater trend of censorship in Cuba.
Lavastida plans to continue creating art and speaking up about the situation in Cuba.