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Sanad in the Digital Realm: A Free Space for Defiance


Sanad in the Digital Realm is a brand-new artist production grant scheme. Ettijahat is launching the project as part of its ongoing programme Sanad, which centres on artist protection: Sanad in the Digital Realm supports and facilitates discussions around human rights, freedom of expression and the development of artworks dealing with matters such as human rights, censorship, and issues that dominate the general scene.

In its pilot edition, this exploratory component is born from the desire to benefit from the lessons, experiences and questions acquired since 2019 from Sanad, in dealing with the questions of freedom, safety, and protection, and all the discussions that expanded in the past years within the art scene in the Arab region, especially in the Syrian context.

While Syrian people – both inside and outside Syria – cannot necessarily gather in physical spaces to share ideas, co-create, and reach audiences in safety, digital space offers a viable alternative, particularly for projects using bold and innovative formats. The central idea of this venture is to use digital spaces as an alternative form of public space in which Syrian artists can break free from the restrictive bounds of so-called “digital colonialism”, and in which female, LGBTQIA+, and refugee artists can work without suffering from discriminatory and hateful behaviours.

The support framework includes the following:

  • Production support funds of up to €4,500 each for 6 digital projects (see explanation below) dealing with provocative subjects (6 months’ duration)
  • Access to and use of digital platforms for developing, exhibiting, and discussing projects
  • Supportive professional services, including but not limited to expert consultation on legal matters, guidance on cybersecurity, psychological support, artistic mentoring, and more

Inspired by the need to uphold the principles of humanity, liberty, justice, and solidarity with all members of the creative community, Ettijahat launched Sanad in 2019. Initially, the programme focused on providing legal aid. Today, the programme also seeks to contribute to the well-being of artists and cultural practitioners from different creative fields by alleviating injustice and strengthening the few frameworks that exist to protect artists. Over 4 years, Sanad has been able to provide legal services, information, and support to more than 110 artists and cultural practitioners who have been forced to leave Syria and move to new living and working environments, with a particular focus on those who have moved to Lebanon and Germany. The programme has also helped to build alliances between Ettijahat and and peer organisations working to promote and secure creative freedoms, civil protections, and social justice.

The pilot edition of Sanad in the Digital Realm is launched with the support of Mimeta, the Swedish Arts Council, RRLI alliance, and Action for Hope, in partnership with Legal Agenda.

Background & Rationale

The past decade in much of the Arab region has seen governments and non-state actors continually demonstrate their contempt for basic human rights and progressive social values. Syria remains a case study in social, economic, and political turmoil, particularly for people of independent spirit and mind, and for additionally vulnerable populations who suffer mistreatments ranging from marginalisation to active aggression – LGBTQIA+ people, displaced people, women, and others. Meanwhile, displaced Syrians in the Arab region and Europe still face innumerable challenges over residency, working rights, freedom of movement, the right to gather, and their exercise of free thought and expression – all in addition to psychological traumas caused by conflict, displacement, the discrimination they face every day, and the decreased levels of protection as a result of the health and environmental crises.

For many Syrian artists, the exodus has meant a breakdown of communication between Syria and the rest of the world, and the opening of a social, economic, political, and cultural chasm between those inside Syria and those outside Syria. Artists are increasingly concerned with rebuilding these connections. Recent years have seen artists and non-artists in the Arab region demanding improved freedoms and rights reforms; similar discourses have also arisen outside the Arab region, fuelled by more than two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, myriad popular social justice movements, and now a new wave of refugeeism as a result of war in Europe. Amid gross global uncertainty and injustice, many concepts like asylum, displacement, isolation, and globalisation are being re-evaluated around the world. The current status of the diaspora and its ability to connect with Syrians inside Syria not only redefines our perception of what is public and what is private, but also our concept of geography: what it means to live abroad, the universality of isolation, and the limits of travel.

Without opportunities for growth or regeneration, Syrian artists and civil society actors have been forced into digital space as the only way to stay connected to the rest of the world. Exploration of the digital world has widened horizons for collaboration and connection, particularly against this backdrop of a scattered diaspora on one hand and prohibitions on free expression and movement on the other. However, initiatives supporting this shift tend not to appreciate the complexities involved: oppressive controls on social media, totalitarian censorship, and endless oversight by the authorities. Coupled with the reluctance of actors outside Syria to discuss the country and its challenges, the result is that Syria is aggressively besieged, both in physical reality and in the digital sphere. All of this necessitates a response that can alleviate the insurmountable pressures, challenges, and risks endured by Syrian artists.

Main Objectives

  • To provide safe, secure, and accessible digital platforms for 6 boundary-pushing Syrian artists facing severe obstacles in the production and exhibition of their work (legal issues, censorship, threats due to taboo content, etc.) in all artistic media in the Levant, Egypt, Europe, and the UK
  • To develop an artistic production mechanism that defies the socio-political oppression of artists and cultural practitioners and enhances cross-sector dialogue between stakeholders in the arts and technology, law, human rights, and other sectors
  • To promote global conversations about free expression, social justice, human rights activism, and public rights reform, focusing specifically on cultural rights, artist safety, employment and health, via advocacy at a regional level

Activities

Component 1 – Digital Artistic Production for Provocative and Controversial Projects

Through an open call for artists and an independent evaluation process, 6 artistic projects will be selected to receive production grants of up to €4,500. To be eligible for this grant, projects must use the digital realm as an integral aspect of their artistic development, their project implementation, or their connection with/exhibition to audiences. Artists working with unconventional art forms are encouraged to apply, as are refugees and members of the LGBTQIA+ community (and especially women in these groups). The programme is aimed specifically towards artistic projects with taboo themes, such as (but not limited to) controversial political, social and gender issues.

Component 2 – Dialogue, Access & Openness for Audiences

Participants in this programme will have the opportunity to participate publicly, or anonymously using pseudonyms, in curated talks about the role of creative interventions in advocating, gaining and recovering human and cultural rights. They will also be supported in exhibiting their work to larger communities, promoting discourse about human and cultural rights challenges in the Arab region, and discussing ideas for progress and reform. These themes constitute the very core of the programme and will be at the heart of all programme literature: it is therefore crucial that applicants propose projects which can encourage audiences to discuss and interact with these topics.

Component 3 – Guidance and Support

Selected artists will receive access to otherwise financially and technically inaccessible tools and assistance, including expert support in IT and cybersecurity, digital curation and exhibition, legal consultations, and psychological support. They will be able to meet with experts, artistic mentors, and their peers throughout the project to collaborative, share, and solve and discuss common challenges regarding their work, their safety, and the protection of artists more widely. Ettijahat will ensure that all project activities in these respects will be entirely confidential and arranged with participant safety and privacy as the absolute priority. This protection package will consist of remote consultations, exchange sessions, and access to relevant resources.       

Criteria and Selection Process

An expert committee will read and evaluate the eligible applications, in order to choose 6 participants who will take part in this edition. The main criteria for selection are:

  • The relevance of the project proposal to the digital realm
  • The level of defiance, questioning, provocation, and stereotypes breaking
  • The level of innovation
  • The engagement of other sectors to enhance social justice questions
  • The capability to implement the project

Key dates

  • Online Q&A session: 8 September 2022
  • Deadline for the submission of applications: 10th of October 2022 (23:59 Beirut time)
  • Announcement of results: First half of November 2022
  • Agreements and projects development: November 2022 till April 2023
  • Final reports: May 2023

To apply, please read the general guidelines and to download the application and frequently asked questions, please click and download the files below.

After completion, the application form, along with the documents listed in it, have to be sent to sanad@ettijahat.org.

For further information or queries, please email us at the same address.


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