Artseverywhere Artist Safety / Safe Haven Hosting

Fatemeh Ekhtesari is an Iranian poet, writer, and a freelance filmmaker. Fatemeh has published three poetry anthologies in Iran and two books while in exile, one of which is a collection of short stories. The other is a story based on her prison memories. In 2013, Fatemeh attended a poetry festival in Gothenburg, Sweden (Göteborgs poesifestival); upon her return to Iran she was imprisoned and later released on bail. In 2015, Fatemeh was sentenced to 99 lashes and 11.5 years imprisonment. Fatemeh currently lives in exile in Norway as a guest writer.


Fatemeh Ekhtesari

The most important role the individuals who work in the “in-between” space can play is finding people who deserve the residencies and then helping them to use these facilities. This job is not being done well today. My experience from Iran tells me that many under-pressure artists or individuals that could use these residency opportunities are not aware of such opportunities or centers, or do not know how to connect with them and apply for them. Information about artist residencies do not always reach those who most need them, so we sometimes see that the person chosen for a residency has come from a limited pool, or from a select pool of artists who were able to access information about the residency. Even if he or she is an artist at risk, there may be other individuals at great risk who must be considered a priority.

This field’s activists can find information on various residencies by using the internet, knowing the communication tools of the country (such as social media which are not filtered and are popular), and by choosing mediators who have just left the country and still breathe in the country’s art atmosphere.

To have a proper plan for the present and future of the invited artists is the other point. The invited person should be able to use the opportunity of the residency for cultural and artistic affairs, and the working conditions should be clearly explained to him or her. For example, I have to attend a Norwegian Language class. If I am not present at the class, the payment I receive for being a refugee will be discontinued. How can I start writing my new novel when I’m spending more than a half a day in class, and the rest of my day doing the assignments and overcoming the problems I am faced with in a new country? Moreover, I did not have access to the internet or satellite channels for a month after I entered Norway. These facilities might seem like small things, but they are essential for an artist to connect to the world, especially when living in a small town.

Planning for the artist’s future is more important than considering his or her current situation. Many residencies are short-term opportunities, and artists have to come back home afterward. In countries with dictatorships, such as Iran, participation in such events could be considered a crime and lead to terrible sentences. If the artist publishes some artworks without the censorship rules of his or her country, the result could be worse. This situation causes the artist to face strange problems which waste a great deal of time and energy, if it does not force him or her to come back. On the other hand, the artists who do not come back to their countries, do not have less problems than others do. The residency center suddenly stops supporting them, so they suffer from many financial and emotional problems. We must remember that artists, especially those that come from countries ruled by dictatorships, are often faced with many mental problems and may need more emotional supports than financial ones.

Last but not least, we must consider how an artist who is at risk leaves the country. For example, in my country, many artists are banned from foreign travel or their passports are seized in the cases of arrest. Therefore, an artist that is really at risk must leave Iran illegally. Finding reliable human smugglers, paying money to them, and passing borders illegally is a very dangerous and stressful process. In my view, residency centers can help artists by taking them out of the country safely, in cooperation with other human-rights organizations.

Some suggestions could be offered here: choosing connecting persons who are somewhat familiar with the culture and language of the artists, accommodating the artist in cities which have the minimum facilities needed for art, hiring psychologists and analysts familiar with art to support the artists mentally and emotionally, and creating and supporting channels of communication for invited artists so that they can communicate with their compatriots as well as with people and artists in the new country, in a balanced way (so that it does not lead to forgetting language or a culture or identity crisis, nor does it cause lack of communication between the artist and the society).

Published in ArtsEvryWhere Artist Safety / Safe Haven Hosting


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