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Sanad in the Digital Realm: A Free Space for Defiance | Selected Projects – 2022 Edition


Khaled Alwarea | Syrian LGBTQIA+ Memory 

The project aims to present the Syrian LGBTQIA+ memory – pre and post-revolution – as a timeline of key events, drawing art from this timeline to showcase it in a website as living and growing memory. The project suggests a thriving LGBTQIA+ community following the spread of the internet, chatrooms, and networking, and then a community put at risk with the refugee crisis in the wake of the Syrian revolution. 

Mey Seifan | Meta dreams: Trauma Talk

The project is based on the findings of a long research on dreams/nightmares during emergencies and the relationship between the conscious and the subconscious. The project comprises two sections: 1) presentation of some findings and techniques of conscious dreaming (being conscious while dreaming in your sleep), as a method to engage with trauma and as a way to stop recurrent nightmares, which would enable better sleep; 2) a 50-minute audiovisual trip in a spherical space to help in the recurrent practical training on conscious dreaming techniques. 

“Trauma Talk” is part of a larger project entitled Meta dreams, which will be shared on the Metaverse soon. The show draws from the themes of anxiety and sleep disorders among people living in emergencies, a key reason for connecting sleep to the fear of recurrent nightmares. In addition to providing a political and emotional archive, the show seeks to share techniques to enable individuals to be free from nightmares and fears, and take control of the events, thus taking action in emergency situations and past traumas. 

Nems Platform | Nems

Independent multimedia platform that produces and disseminates satirical and critical content in Arabic. The platform focuses on the MENA region and seeks to offer artists from various disciplines the space to produce targeted satirical and parodies online such as videos, graphic art, caricatures, as well as texts and photos. Nems tackles political, economic, and social topics. It presents itself as a pilot platform for all contributors and artists interested in satire to create a community that fosters collaboration among Arabic-speaking artists, activists, and journalists. Nems tackles currently, and will always tackle, different topics to stand up against oppressive states, institutions, or social customs in a constant effort to effect change and progress in civil society and promote dialogue and discussion using art, comedy, and constructive criticism. 

Reneh Danouv | House of Gender

An online participatory and inclusive platform showcasing the artwork of transgender artists. In addition to exhibiting, documenting, and archiving these works, the platform will adopt an artistic, social, and psychological approach to these pieces through workshops and discussions with specialists from the LGBTQIA+ community, and the Arab region in general. 

Rouba Alsayed | Return and Confusion

Digital art Exhibition, Art and cultural project stemming from a personal experience. It explores the journey after the return to the homeland. It examines ways to connect the identity of returnees to the social and cultural fabric, confront the challenges of nostalgia to the place’s distorted memory, and depicts the dilemma of seeking the fundamental needs of a normal life while catching up to the changes in the outside world and identifying how we fit in these changes. The project uses oral history and artworks to document the experiences of returnees from several cultures and their impact on society, culture, and the form of the space. 

Salina Abaza | Dzadza the Beautiful 

Multimedia (audio-visual-installation) show to reimagine the old Caucasian tradition of khatife (elopement) from a queer perspective, as practised by Circassian communities. The project will reproduce a folkloric scene about an elopement where the girl die after falling off her beloved’s horse in their escape. The scene will be paired with AI-generated “archival” photos imagining the story between two women lovers and with the girl not dying, in addition to an -imagined- montage of their lives together. The art piece will also feature installations tackling some elements of the khatife tradition, among others, such as “3 bullets on a canvas” because traditionally three shots would be fired in the village when a couple elopes to inform the residents. 

Shaam Hassan “Thawra” | The Young Mother/ Matryoshka 

In an attempt to depict the ideas and vision of “revolution” based on the expression of personal and intellectual freedoms of a middle-eastern women, with a focus on the upsetting aspect of feelings, and to reshape the concepts of life to return to pure human essence, Matryoshka, the Russian doll, symbol of curiosity and fertility, will address the Arab region as the voice of the “revolution” in a visual cinematic scene with a musical score as an opening. The aforementioned elements will transform in a visual space to reflect the shedding that the “revolution” experiences daily through multiple images and characters hiding in the other parts. 

 

Jury Committee 

The selection committee included Sulafa Hijazi, a multidisciplinary artist, director, and producer, Mazen Elsayed (ELRASS), a music producer, writer, and rapper, Joseph Kai, an independent artist, researcher, and painter. The members gathered in November to assess and select the qualified projects. The members then issued the following statement:
 
"We were filled with hope at the sheer number of provocative projects presented tackling several issues including fighting censorship, promoting diverse narratives, rejecting marginalization, gender, and fighting the patriarchy among others. These themes are aimed at breaking restrictions and promoting social justice and activism. We believe that the selected project can tackle simultaneously sensitive and necessary themes related to creativity in a delicate social, political, cultural, and historical context whether in Syria or abroad. They try to understand the ongoing change, taking into consideration the massive pressures, challenges, and risks incurred by the authors. The selected projects have the ability to adopt creative approaches to important topics to explore the transdisciplinary relationship between arts and other fields such as technology, psychology, sociology, etc." 

 

Received Applications

The deadline for applications was on 10 October 2022. We received 39 applications from 9 countries in the Arab region and the world, with a gender composition of: 53.12% male, 37.5% female, 6,25% unidentified, and 3.1% transgender. The projects covered the following art fields: mixed art fields: 46,87%; music and visual arts: 18,75%; creative writing: 12.5%; digital arts: 12.5%; visual arts: 3.12%; cinema: 3.12%; performance arts: 3.12%. 

The selected projects boast contributions from Syria, Lebanon, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Abkhazia. In the upcoming months, the participants will work on their projects which are expected to be completed in the first half of 2023. In parallel, they will have the opportunity to engage in discussions about the role of creative interventions in retaking violated rights. They will also benefit from support to show their work to a wider community. The selected artists will have access to tools and guidance regarding IT support and cybersecurity, digital coordination and exhibition of the arts, legal consultations, and psychological support. 

 

On SANAD the Digital Realm

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.

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, 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.


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