(ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, NY) — Bard College and PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) today announce the inaugural cohort of fellows for the Center for Ethics and Writing Program, comprising five international artists who have been persecuted for their work. 

The fellows for the Center for Ethics and Writing Program are Cuban poet and artist Amaury Pacheco del Monte; Turkish writer, human rights activist, and physicist Asli Erdogan; Tamil poet, filmmaker, and actor Leena Manimekalai; Ugandan human rights advocate, poet, and medical anthropologist Stella Nyanzi; and Iranian poet, lyricist, and women’s rights activist Mahtab Yaghma.

This fellowship is a non-residency program providing direct support for one year to writers and artists whose free expression is threatened due to their socially engaged art. The Center hopes to further empower the fellows by inviting them to speak on their creative practice in virtual courses, networking extensively on their behalf, and promoting their work on the Center’s website and online journal.

“The Center for Ethics and Writing’s partnership with Pen America’s ARC is the next step in the Center’s efforts to highlight the critical and urgent role artists and writers play in shaping our political and cultural discourse. Our first cohort of fellows embody the Center’s commitment to supporting creative practices that despite the risks, engage boldly with some of the most pressing and divisive social issues facing us,” said John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of the Humanities Dinaw Mengestu, director of Bard College’s Written Arts program and the Center for Ethics and Writing.

“ARC is honored to collaborate with Bard College to identify a talented pool of writers and artists who demonstrate an unwavering commitment to their freedom of expression. We are thrilled to amplify these writers and artists who will lend their expertise and experience to the Center for Ethics and Writing,” said ARC Director Julie Trébault. “By centering creatives who have fled their own country for the sake of their free expression, Bard recognizes the vital role creatives play in advancing the international exchange of thoughts and ideas and the necessity to create such an empowering program.” 

The Fellowship for the Center of Ethics and Writing Program is made possible by generous support from the Booth Ferris Foundation.

About the Fellows

Amaury Pacheco del Monte is an Afro-Cuban interdisciplinary artist and poet. In 1997, he co-founded the Cuban art collective OMNI Zona Franca, a group that for two decades challenged their government’s restriction and surveillance by bringing together artists of various disciplines to host public performances and festivals. Amaury co-founded the San Isidro Movement in 2018 in response to Decree 349, a Cuban law passed that required artists to attain advance approval for artistic exhibitions and performances. After facing persecution for his work, Amaury left Cuba through humanitarian parole, and now lives in Miami with his family. 


Born in Istanbul, in 1967, Aslı Erdoğan is a writer, journalist, human rights activist, and particle physicist. She has written eight books—novels, novellas, collections of short stories and poetic prose, and selections from her political essays—that have been translated into more than twenty languages, and works as a columnist for various international publications. In 2016, she was arrested for her collaboration with the pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem. She now lives in exile in Germany, where she continues her work as a writer and advocate for human rights. 


Leena Manimekalai is a Tamil poet and celebrated filmmaker in India. She has made over fifteen films that covered subjects such as caste, gender, globalization, art therapy, student politics, Tamil right to self-determination, eco feminism, Indigenous and LGBTQIA+ rights. Her poetry has been translated into Malayalam, Hindi, Kannada, English and Spanish. In 2022, Leena faced charges from Indian authorities after a poster for her recent film, Kaali, depicted the Hindu goddess Kaali smoking a cigarette and holding an LGBTQIA+ flag. She now lives and works in Canada. 


Mahtab Yaghma is a lyricist, poet and women’s rights activist from Iran. She has been civically active in her hometown Neyshabur, both physically and now virtually from Turkey. She has participated in various protest movements in the past decade, including the 2019-2020 protests as part of the wider Iranian Democracy Movement, and the 2022-2023 protests in response to the murder of Mahsa Amini. Her poetry has been interpreted by Iranian vocalists and she has two published poetry collections. Mahtab faces three charges in Iran due to her art and activism, and currently lives in exile in Turkey. 


Dr. Stella Nyanzi is a medical anthropologist, poet, feminist scholar, and advocate for women’s health and LGBTQIA+ rights in Uganda. She has published numerous articles and works of writing and was a research fellow at Makerere University. Dr. Nyanzi’s writing and research explores the intersections between modern homophobia and colonization, and sheds light on issues of healthcare and women’s rights in Uganda. She has been an outspoken critic of President Yoweri Museveni, and has been arrested twice after posting poems censuring him. She now lives with her family in exile in Germany. 


About The Center for Ethics and Writing

An initiative of Bard College’s Written Arts Program, The Center for Ethics and Writing reimagines the study of literature and writing as both an academic and social practice, one that asks students to translate the skills they develop in the classroom as critical readers and writers to some of the most pressing and divisive social issues of the moment.


Faculty and students in courses supported by the Center for Ethics and Writing will address a broad range of social and political concerns through a creative and critical practice that prioritizes complexity and an interrogation of competing, even opposing perspectives. At the end of each semester, faculty and students will have the opportunity to publish the work produced in their courses in the Center’s online journal. In partnering with PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection, faculty and students are invited to read, work, translate, and when possible, work directly with the Center’s international fellows.


About the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC)

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. Since its inception in 2017, ARC’s mission has been to safeguard the fundamental right to artistic freedom of expression worldwide to ensure that artists and cultural workers can live and create without fear, regardless of their country or discipline. ARC’s recent report Art is Power: Twenty Artists on How They Fight for Justice and Inspire Change spotlights the stories of 20 artists around the world who have used their creative talents to uplift, sustain, and mobilize social and political movements globally. Supported by the report’s findings, ARC urges states and multilateral institutions to develop a UN Action Plan for the Protection of Artists recognizing the role socially engaged artists play in creating a more open society, and ensuring their right to access protective mechanisms under international human rights frameworks. ARC recently released A Safety Guide For Artists, a resource that offers practical strategies to help artists understand, navigate, and overcome risk. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC.

Contacts: at Bard College, Mark Primoff, 845-758-7412, [email protected]; at PEN America, Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057