Malmö Safe Havens report 2017: - I don’t give them the chance to censor my songs in any way...

May 28, 2018

The Report from the Safe Havens Conference in Malmö 6-8 December last year is now available online. An extensive report by Michael Schmidt with photos by Stefan Landenberg and Ava Hanning, giving an in-depth insight to the conference themes last year ranging from how to combat hate speech and cyber-bullying, to how the Arab world’s artistic and intellectual Diasporas are dealing with the somewhat deflated atmosphere in the wake of the erosion of the promise of the so-called “Arab Spring”.

The main theme for the conference was “Artists and Movements”, and the days in Malmö started out with two artist presentations, and this is (in brief) from Michael Schmidt’s report:

As the trajectory of a falcon, underscored by the rhythm provided by musicians Nariman Hodjati and Masih Madani, elegant Iranian dancer-choreographer Shahrokh Moshkin Ghalam spun dervish-like in a widening gyre, his svelte movements embracing the widening world of the arts, from the subatomic tracery of its paints and inks to the furthest reaches of its Diasporas. To the awed appreciation of his audience, Sahrokh’s feet stirred the dust motes on the floorboards of the onion-domed Moriska Paviljongen, site of the fourth gathering of Safe Havens: the Malmö Meetings. Initiated in 2013, Safe Havens is the premiere international gathering of activists in the field of art, as well as organisations that monitor the safety of creatives worldwide – some of which host artists in exile in extreme circumstances. Held in a contemplative, dynamic and engaged atmosphere over 6-8 December 2017, delegates and artists from across the world were delighted to hear that funding had been secured for a 2018 edition of the gathering.

Two key discussions – backed by stirring performances – demonstrated the universal, and in many cases, insidious nature of censorship against the arts. The theme was initiated by Norwegian cellist and SafeMUSE co-founder Jan Lothe Eriksen, interviewing Norwegian pop-star Pål Moddi Knutsen whose personal journey to a rather shocked awareness of the global prevalence of censorship was enlightening. Moddi’s album and book project Unsongs: Forbidden Stories tells the stories behind twelve outlawed songs from Mexico to Britain to Israel to Vietnam. 

Moddi said the roots of this project that altered the direction of his career so profoundly was that over 2013-2014, based on the success of his sweet nostalgic pop tune House by the Sea, he had been touring the world launching an album in English and Norwegian.

“When I stepped into this world of politically-charged, controversial, angry, pointy music, it amazed me how far musicians were willing to go in order to get their message out – and we are of course at this conference because of some of these musicians who have really gone lengths to sing what they believe in… These are musicians with a message: that message was so strong I couldn’t resist it as a listener.”

Another artist in movement is the Vietnamese artist Mai Khoi. Michael Schmidt reports:

“After the nomination [to Parliament], I kind of moved to another way. I have many people who support me, but also many people resist me… After the nomination, I was banned from singing in public in Vietnam because the government doesn’t like my sounds and I don’t give them the chance to censor my songs in any way. Instead I give concerts in a private place but the police still come to my concerts and make difficulties for the owner of venue.” These discrete private concerts for a select group of only about 40 guests have been raided by armed and plain-clothes police who fine the venue host as a way of discouraging support for her. So Mai turned to Facebook where she is followed by more than 46,000 people, both to get her message out via live screenings of her unlicensed concerts and to give herself a profile that helps protect her.

The conference was hosted by the Culture Department of Malmö City and organized in partnership with the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) and SafeMUSE, the conference gathered organizations, activists, artists, and writers involved in issues concerning free speech, artistic freedom, and the protection of artists at risk.

READ THE FULL REPORT HERE

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