The week in Greece’s capital city started with The Garden Sessions, a two-day pre-meeting organised through a collaboration between SH | FT and Hildesheim University. The Sessions took place in the Duncan Dance Research Centre and were aimed at supporting artists at risks and relocated artists who have faced persecution. Among those artists, writers, and NGO representatives discussing issues of sustainability and well-being during The Garden Sessions were Jannatun Nayeem Prity and Atefe Asadi.
Sharing her impressions of and experiences from The Sessions, Asadi said:
‘We spent The Garden Sessions getting to know each other, participating in various workshops, and engaging in interesting activities... Like friends who have known each other for years, we talked freely, argued, even shouted words like ‘freedom’ together, and poured out our feelings. Talking about the psychological effects of lacking artistic freedom was another important topic we discussed. Meeting with beautiful people who each had their own story full of both strength and suffering was incredibly inspiring for me. As Margaret Atwood says that eventually we will all become stories, I am proud to have met the heroes of various stories who went through everything in the way of their art.’
The questions raised and discussed during The Garden Sessions focused on topics such as the impact of threats on artistic practice and legacy and the tools and methods which creative professionals use to remain inspired. Prity reflected on the issues addressed during the pre-meeting:
‘We had different sessions which were very useful in finding an overview of the global human rights situation. The challenges for the human rights defenders who are also artists and writers and how to deal with that. It is amazing that we talked a lot about the mental health of human rights defenders.
In this session, I specifically talked about the challenges of being a female human rights defender. I faced threats from the government and extremist fanatics because I usually spoke for the empowerment of women, feminism, and the corruption of the government. I shared how I dealt with the bullying and harassment campaign against me.’
Following The Garden Sessions, the 10th annual Safe Havens Conference, organised by SH | FT took place. The event in Athens was aimed at raising awareness of the needs and opportunities for artists and defenders of artistic freedom, with focus on Greece and the MENA region. The two-day conference included speeches, reports, performances, and conversations.
Prity, who read some of her stories and presented her artworks during 2023 the Safe Havens Conference, shared that:
‘I talked at two different sessions on November 9th. There, I showed a few of my artworks and read a story named ‘The Signature’ from my last book which was published during my ongoing trial period at Bangladeshi court for my writeup on social media about the catastrophe of the health sector during the pandemic.
I got a huge response over the story reading. I showed a few of the artworks which I made on different issues of the battle for human rights globally. There was another session where we talked about our well-being and solidarity. In it, I, Helge Lunde, and other participants talked about the challenges writers and artists who have faced persecution experienced in terms of well-being. I met amazing people throughout the whole conference.’
Atefe Asadi also reflected on her biggest takeaways from the 2023 Safe Havens Conference:
‘I can say that personally, my biggest achievement were the friendships that I put in my suitcase like a souvenir and brought with me to Germany. When you are exiled from your language, country, and everything, being in a group where everyone has a common pain is like being inside the safety and warmth of a family.’
Jannatun Nayeem Prity is a writer, artist, and activist from Bangladesh, currently living in Paris as the city’s ICORN resident for the period 2022-2024. You can read Prity’s ICORN resident profile here.
Atefe Asadi is a writer, editor, translator, and songwriter from Iran. She is the current ICORN resident in Hannover, Germany for the period 2022-2024. You can read Asadi’s ICORN resident profile here.