Category Archives: Artists and Arts Watch

UKRAINIANS ABROAD TALK OF SHOCK AND DISBELIEF AS HOMELAND IS INVADED ·

(Megan Specia’s article appeared in The New York Times, 2/24; Photo: back home, and expressed feelings of hopelessness. Ukrainians and supporters of Ukraine outside Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office in London on Thursday protesting Russia’s invasion.Credit…Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images.)

Across Europe, Ukrainian expatriates looked on in horror at the scenes of destruction

LONDON — Ukrainians living across Europe watched in horror and disbelief from afar on Thursday as Russia’s invasion of their home country began with shelling and rocket attacks in several cities.

Many shared feelings of helplessness as they received frantic calls from loved ones back home describing attacks nearby, instructing them what to do if they were killed in the conflict, or sending requests to empty bank accounts.

At protests in London on Thursday, some wept. Some fingered prayer beads. And many said they were determined to raise their voices and demand greater action by the world to end Russian aggression.

Yulia Tomashckuk, 29, wore sunglasses to shield her tears as she clutched a small Ukrainian flag. A village that neighbors her hometown in western Ukraine had been attacked, she said, news that her mother relayed to her by phone before dawn Thursday.

“I just felt I was useless sitting at home watching the news — here at least I can show there are people who support Ukraine, who are against war and who want Putin to be shown his place,” she said. “He needs to be stopped now.”

The Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, was the focus of much of the outrage.

Chants of “Putin, hands off Ukraine” and “U.K. support Ukraine” echoed from the crowd of hundreds that gathered outside Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office at 10 Downing Street on Thursday.

Even before Russian strikes on Ukraine began, Britain and the European Union earlier this week announced targeted sanctions against Moscow. On Thursday, Mr. Johnson announced new actions from Britain and its allies that included asset freezes on major banks and individuals, a ban on the Russian airline Aeroflot, and a ban on many technology exports to Russia.

Those who gathered near his office waved Ukrainian flags and demanded more stringent sanctions and broader actions from the West in response to Russian military action.

“I’m shocked, probably like everyone, because my family is still in Ukraine,” said Mariya Tymchyshyn, 30, who took time off work to join the protests. “We were panicked as well: We don’t know what to do. No one can be ready for this.”

Ms. Tymchyshyn’s family lives in the western part of Ukraine, away from the most fierce attacks, but she was worried for her grandparents, who as survivors of World War II have already lived through intense fighting in Ukraine.

“It’s probably the hardest part for us,” she said. “I was trying to calm down my grandmother, but she remembers being a child at that time and a bomb killed her mother. I want peace for all of us.”

Inna Tereshchuk, 26, who has lived in Britain for eight years, said her family members “are all scared for their lives.”

She is trying to remain strong for them.

“We don’t know how long they will be alive, what Putin has on his mind,” she said. “The whole world knows about it, and no one is doing anything.”

She was joined at the protest by her friend Alina Clarke, 25, whose family lives near Kyiv. Ms. Clarke spoke with her father, who vowed to stand his ground, telling her that he was not going anywhere and planned “to stay until the end.”

“I hope that in every city and town all over the world Ukrainians are going to come out and show that we are not afraid of Putin, and we want him to take his hands off our country,” Ms. Clarke said. “Ukraine has every right to exist.”

A small group also gathered at the Russian Embassy in northwest London, where a number of protests have been held in recent days, but by Thursday morning they had taken on a more somber tone. Among the handful who stood outside the embassy were a number of Russians denouncing their government’s actions.

Tatiana Rudayak, 46, a Russian-British woman who held a blue sign with the words “Stop the War” painted on in bright yellow paint, was keen to have her voice heard.

“I am here because my country has started a war, and I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t protest that,” she said. “I was fluctuating between despair and fury and this is the only thing I can do.”

Denis Zihiltsov, 34, who said he had not slept the night before, came to the embassy holding a sign in Russian that read, “I’m Russian and I demand you stop killing our brothers. Glory to Ukraine.”

“Its heartbreaking,” he said. “It’s killing people for nothing.”

The Belarus Free Theatre, one of Europe’s most acclaimed theater troupes, was rehearsing a play in an east London studio on Thursday, but all of its members were continually checking their phones for updates on the conflict.

Several of its members are Ukrainian and everyone knew someone trapped in the country.

Marichka Marczyk, at the rehearsals in London, said in a telephone interview that she’d just had a text exchange with her brother in Kyiv about what to do if he was killed in the conflict. “My will is simple,” he replied. “Burn my body/scatter the ashes,” adding: “All my riches to my kid.” Those riches include his honey bees.

Similar scenes played out in cities across Europe, where Ukrainian expatriates were grappling with the troubling news from their homeland. In Berlin’s Pariser Platz, hundreds of somber protesters wrapped themselves in Ukrainian flags.

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BELARUS FREE THEATRE:  ‘WE ARE IN LIMBO’: BANNED BELARUS THEATRE TROUPE FORCED INTO EXILE ·

(Harriet Sherwood and Andrew Roth in Moscow—their article appeared in the Guardian, 12/6; Photo: Some of the 16 Belarus Free Theatre members currently in London rehearsing for a production. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian.)

 

Members of Belarus Free Theatre say authorities ‘are more scared of artists than of political statements’

For 16 years, the Belarus Free Theatre has advocated for freedom of expression, equality and democracy through underground performances from ad hoc locations to audiences hungry for an alternative voice to the country’s repressive dictator, Alexander Lukashenko.

Now the banned company has taken the momentous decision to relocate outside Belarus, saying the risk of reprisals against its members is too great for it to continue its cultural resistance under the Lukashenko regime.

Sixteen members of the BFT ensemble in London rehearsing for a production at the Barbican next year, plus another nine family members, have decided they cannot return home for the foreseeable future. The BFT is the only theatre company in Europe to be prohibited on political grounds.

Its new base has not been established, but Poland and other eastern European countries are being considered. The troupe has ruled out applying for asylum in the UK as its members would be barred from working during the process, which could take more than a year.

Several members of the BFT were imprisoned amid widespread protests after Lukashenko declared victory in flawed elections in August 2020. The theatre group’s co-founders, Natalia Kaliada and Nikolai Khalezin, have lived in London since being forced into exile in 2011.

Kaliada said it was unprecedented in 2021 for a theatre company to be forced to relocate out of a European country “for fear of persecution and torture”. She added: “It is a disgrace that we allow not just artistic freedoms but basic human freedoms to be absolutely disregarded in a country that is a three-hour flight from London.

“The sheer existence of Belarus Free Theatre and our continued work, despite repression, is the greatest threat to dictatorship – the will of the people to continue telling the truth is the greatest show of power imaginable.”

As the regime cracked down forcefully against protests after the disputed 2020 election, “it became clear we needed to get our team out of the country”, said Kaliada. “There was very severe repression and people being arrested every day.”

The members of the company left Minsk in October, taking different forms of transport. Some were smuggled out of the country, she said. All left parents and other loved ones, and brought nothing apart from clothing and small personal items. “It is very painful for them to leave their families, and they have feelings of guilt,” Kaliada added.

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FOR RUSSIAN COMEDIANS, POLITICAL SATIRE IS NO JOKE. IT CAN NOW LAND THEM IN JAIL. ·


Comedian Kirill Sietlov, who was jailed earlier this year in Russia after claims he organized a protest rally, a charge he denied. He recently set up a Telegram channel for traumatized comedians to share their stories of persecution.
(Photo by Maksim Morozov)

(Robyn Dixon’s and Mary Ilyushina’s article appeared in The Washington Post, 12/2; via the Deudge Report.)

MOSCOW — A Russian video comedy troupe in a small provincial city was doing just fine. It clocked up millions of YouTube views with mischievous political satire.

Then the comedians did a gag in which a drunken political boss with a grenade launcher blows up an election poster for President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.

They each face up to eight years in jail, charged with “extreme hooliganism.”

“We’re not criminals. They’re trying to make us into criminals. We are not hooligans. We are just an ordinary film crew,” said director Andrei Klochkov in an interview with Russian independent media.

The team in Ussuriysk, north of Vladivostok, has since been barred by a court from speaking to media, said its lawyer, Alexei Klyotskin.

For years, Russian authorities have expanded their crackdowns: curbing freedom of speech, sweeping away activists, pressuring rights lawyers and jailing Putin’s opponents. Prosecutors last month called for the liquidation of venerable human rights group, the International Memorial Society, with roots in Soviet-era dissent.

Now they are arresting comedians — seeking to muzzle any edgy comedy that might offend Putin loyalists or be seen as mocking Russian patriotism.

Until recently, stand-up comedy and freewheeling Internet posts were refuges from censors, said comedian Kirill Sietlov, who was jailed earlier this year after claims he organized a protest rally, a charge he denied.

He recently set up a Telegram channel for traumatized comedians to share their stories of persecution.

 “It seemed that this was a truly free art form. Everything there was possible. There were no restrictions,” he said.

Now, however, Sietlov said the state “has launched a real campaign of fear — fear and hatred.” Besides the police and intelligence agencies, informers and snitches play their part, drumming up outrage, claiming that comedians offended someone’s beliefs or dignity.

Stand-up comedians are scrolling through their old online content, removing cheeky jokes. YouTube comedy creators are fearful. Police and suspected plain clothes agents turning up at stand-up comedy clubs. Comics are getting death threats.

Even harmless pranksters are targeted.

On an irreverent YouTube channel known as BARAKuda, a fictional character, Vitaly Nalivkin (the name is a play on pouring a drink), parodies a provincial official, slurring his words, issuing crazy orders and making local problems worse.

“This is a guy who thinks he always knows what to do, is very confident, who can never be wrong and is always right. He does whatever he wants. He’s funny because he is so recognizable to people,” said Andrei Ostrovsky editor of independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta in Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East.

He said the sketch mocks the fawning local TV coverage of Ussuriysk’s mayor, Yevgeny Korzh, a member of Putin’s party — although director Andrei Klochkov and the BARAKuda team insist it is not supposed to be political.

The episodes are based on real Ussuriysk problems.

One skit addresses the city’s public toilet shortage. So the fictional character Nalivkin orders up rickety wooden latrines with no internal walls to be installed on every street.

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CUBA HARASSES, DETAINS ACTIVISTS ON EVE OF PLANNED PROTEST ·

People hang Cuban flags over the windows of Yunior Garcia Aguilera’s home in an attempt to stop him from communicating with the outside, in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Ramon Epinosa)

(Mary Beth Sheridan’s article appeared in the Washington Post, 11/15; via the Drudge Report.)

Security forces surrounded the homes of Cuban activists on Sunday, the day before a planned march that will test the strength of the protest movement that erupted last summer when Cubans poured into the streets to demand more political freedoms on the communist-ruled island.

The best-known organizer of Monday’s protest, 39-year-old playwright Yunior García Aguilera, had announced he would march alone through Havana at 3 p.m. on Sunday, carrying a white rose in solidarity with Cubans who had been prevented from participating the following day. But hours before he set out, plainclothes police swarmed his block and besieged his building. He tried to signal to journalists from his apartment, displaying a white sheet in support of the protests, and a rose. People dropped giant Cuban flags over the side of the building to cover the windows.

“We all know we can be detained within a few hours,” García Aguilera said in a Facebook Live post on Sunday morning, appearing nervous but calm. “I will face this with dignity. I believe this country will change.”

He called on people around the nation to clap at 3 p.m. to show their “thirst for freedom,” but there did not appear to be a widespread response. “I won’t renounce my ideas,” he told The Washington Post later Sunday. He said, however, he was penned in by hundreds of security forces outside his home. “The lives of my family members are in danger,” he said.

Cuban authorities had hoped to celebrate the island’s grand reopening to tourists on Monday, following a coronavirus shutdown of nearly 20 months that has crippled an already weak economy. Instead, the day has become symbolic of the confrontation between the government and pro-democracy activists.

Thousands of Cubans, fed up with food shortages, a battered health system and electricity blackouts, spontaneously joined demonstrations last July. They were the biggest protests in six decades.

Activists planned a nationwide “Civic March for Change” on Monday. But with the advance warning, the government has moved aggressively to derail another massive protest. It denied the organizers a permit, claiming they were tied to “subversive organizations” financed by the U.S. government.

n recent days, García Aguilera said, his phone lines and Internet connection were cut. Authorities summoned independent Cuban journalists and activists for questioning and warned they could face charges of public disorder.

On Sunday, the crackdown intensified. Several government critics, including Washington Post opinion contributor Abraham Jiménez Enoa, said that security forces were preventing them from leaving their homes. The Facebook forum Archipiélago, run by García Aguilera and other activists, reported that its moderator, Daniela Rojo, had vanished. Security forces detained another leader of the site, Carlos Ernesto Diaz Gonzalez, in the city of Cienfuegos, according to Archipiélago. The government suspended the credentials of several Havana-based reporters working for EFE, the Spanish news agency.

Journalists who drove to García Aguilera’s apartment building on Sunday morning were driven away by pro-government demonstrators, the playwright said. Several hours later, he appeared at his window, brandishing a white rose, according to reporters at the scene. At one point, he flashed a sign reading: “My house is blocked.” That’s when people on the roof unfurled giant Cuban flags that cascaded down the side of the three-story building, cutting him off from view.

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ARTISTS AND ARTS WATCH: THE WRITING’S ON THE WALL FOR KABUL’S STREET ART SCENE ·

(Amy Kazmin’s article appeared in the Financial Times, 9/9; street painting depicting Farkhunda Malikzada, a 27-year-old woman who was lynched by a mob in Kabul in March 2015 © Yaghobzadeh Alfred/ABACA/Reuters.)

The city’s domineering blast walls were a canvas for colourful murals 

They were afraid of these murals and they had a very clear plan for them,” says artist Omaid Sharifi, co-founder of the grassroots movement Artlords, which mobilised Afghans to paint more than 2,000 murals across the country. “They knew that these murals were the soul of Kabul city, and they wanted to destroy — silence — the soul of Kabul.” The first Taliban regime, from 1996 to 2001, was a time of extreme hardships for the country’s artists, as an extreme, dour, joyless interpretation of Islamic law was enforced. Arts and entertainment — even television and videos in private homes — were banned by fundamentalist leaders who believed photography violated the Islamic injunction against idolatry. In their zeal, the Taliban blew up two monumental 6th-century Bamiyan Buddhas — an act of cultural vandalism that provoked global outrage.

Music was prohibited, instruments smashed, with brutal punishments for anyone who broke the rules. Many Afghans hoped the Taliban — who have embraced social media with gusto — might have grown more tolerant of arts and cultural expression over the past two decades. But the destruction of Kabul’s murals, Sharifi said, has made clear that the new regime will not tolerate any voices other than their own.

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ARTISTS AND ARTS WATCH: PUSSY RIOT’S ALYOKHINA GIVEN ONE YEAR OF ‘RESTRICTED FREEDOM’ AS ANOTHER RUSSIAN OPPOSITION FIGURE IS CONVICTED IN ‘SANITARY CASE’ ·

(Johnny Tickle’s article appeared on RT, 9/11; Photo: (t0p) Russian political activist and member of the punk band and activist group Pussy Riot Maria Alyokhina. © Vasily MAXIMOV / AFP.; (bottom) Pitchfork.com.)

One of the leading stars of the Russian punk rock protest group Pussy Riot, Maria Alyokhina, has been sentenced to one year of restricted freedom in the so-called ‘sanitary case’ that has also seen measures placed on five others.

The court found Alyokhina guilty of inciting people to gather for unauthorized protests in violation of restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19. Some opposition figures have slammed the charge as a convenient way of silencing an anti-Kremlin voice.

Accusations of breaking sanitary rules have been leveled against 10 associates of jailed opposition figure Alexey Navalny, who took part in protests earlier this year to demand that he be released from prison. Navalny is currently serving time behind bars for breaching the terms of a suspended sentence handed to him for his involvement in a fraud scheme concerning French cosmetics firm Yves Rocher. His supporters claim the judgment was politically motivated.

Alyokhina is the latest to have her freedom restricted by court order, following in the footsteps of Navalny’s close ally Lubov Sobol and his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh, among others. Liusya Shtein, another Pussy Riot member, has also been given a similar sentence.

The restrictions include a curfew and a ban against traveling outside Moscow Region. Two of those who received court orders, Sobol and Yarmysh, fled abroad before their sentences could be imposed.

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