(New York, NY) — As political unrest and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continue to threaten artistic freedom across South, Southeast and East Asia, artist-activists find themselves increasingly vulnerable to censorship and persecution in their countries. The humanitarian crisis currently unfolding in Afghanistan has also sent thousands seeking aid in countries across the world including Indonesia and India. These political upheavals across the region have led to the urgent need for solidarity and safe spaces where artists can share their stories and advocate on behalf of the social justice movements in their communities and countries. 

In a limited-run podcast released today called Creating Artistic Resilience: Voices of Asia from PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection—produced in partnership with the Mekong Cultural Hub (MCH) and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)—five artists and cultural rights defenders from Myanmar, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Bangladesh share their experiences of artistic freedom, activism and their stories of resilience in the face of resistance.  

Prompted by the findings from a closed virtual workshop convened in December 2020 as well as those captured in the ARC publication Arresting Art, the podcast comprises conversations between ARC Asia Regional Representative Manojna Yeluri and cultural rights defenders such as a Myanmar visual artist, Hong Kong’s Kacey Wong, Philippines artist rights collective DAKILA, Malaysia’s Fahmi Reza, and Bangladeshi artist Sofia Karim.  

“With the current socio-political climate in Asia being as volatile as it is, it is no wonder that artists and artistic freedom is in a vulnerable position,” said Julie Trébault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “Yet despite the rigorous circumstances that they find themselves in, the artistic community is incredibly resilient—and it is this sense of resilience and resistance that is captured in Creating Artistic Resilience. Shared in the spirit of solidarity, each of these conversations with artists and cultural rights defenders in the region provide a valuable glimpse into the personal and collective challenges currently faced by the creative community in Asia, as they advocate on behalf of the social justice issues in their respective countries. We hope that Creating Artistic Resilience provides insights and tools to the artistic community at large, while also serving as a powerful reminder that artists at risk are not alone.”

Owing to the changes in their countries’ legal and political frameworks, artists and creative professionals with a history of lending their work to social justice movements are finding themselves targeted by governments and other groups. Forced to endure increasingly unsafe conditions, artists from Myanmar, Hong Kong, and Bangladesh are having to resort to relocation—efforts of which are hindered due to financial constraints and mobility restrictions imposed in consideration of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The sharing of experiences—of the challenges and experiences cultural rights defenders and artists face—can be understood as a strategy of protection. The more defenders are connected to one another in resistance, the more possibilities there are for collective support and action to be taken against the threats and harassment prevalent in the region.” said FORUM-ASIA Executive Director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu. 

In the course of five episodes, Creating Artistic Resilience examines the state of artistic freedom across Southeast, East and South Asia.

“Diaspora solidarity is essential and frankly, there’s just not enough of it.” Sofia Karim told ARC’s Yeluri. “What’s happening in India and Bangladesh is absolutely terrifying. We’re now at a precipice. If this is where we are now, and the trajectory continues, then the consequences are imponderable.”

All five episodes are available for download and streaming on all major podcast platforms.