The meeting brought together more than 300 people from over 50 countries, to understand the threats faced by writers, artists and journalists across the globe. In a series of debates, workshops, performances, conversations and screenings, participants worked together to find new forms, new words and new means to work together to protect and promote writers and artists who leave, so they can continue to work for change towards their home and in their new circumstances.
The annual ICORN meetings are in many ways the highlights of the year. Friends, colleagues and partners from a great part of the ICORN network, who work together for the same cause from a distance, have the opportunity to meet. A conglomerate of writers and artists, human rights activists, city representatives, politicians, partners from cultural, human rights and media organisations. Throughout the programme and individual meetings between people, new ideas evolved, partnerships were made, and knowledge and networks were shared.
ICORN, with its currently 65 cities, has hosted 200 writers and artists since 2006. As the network grows, we see that new friendships and alliances are made amongst countrymen - from Iraq, Iran, Eritrea, Bangladesh, Syria - living in cities of refuge across the network. We see that cities cooperate on international projects for common goals within human rights, freedom of expression and culture. A win win for ICORN, for the membership, for the hosted writers and artists, and for the people they work for in their home countries.
Topics such as Working with resettled journalists, Dialogue-the way to peace with Steinar Bryn, The landscape of residencies and The landscape of protection were treated along with fresh eyewitness reports from areas where writers, artists and journalists are particularly at risk; from the Horn of Africa, from Mosul/Iraq as well as from Guantanamo. With the network growing rapidly, there were also time to brainstorm and discuss with the membership the future of the organisation in preparation of the new strategic period 2018-2021.
PEN and ICORN highly appreciated the partnership with local actors, like the Norwegian Festival of Literature, the largest literature festival in Norway, and the Nansen Centre for Peace and Dialogue. The public programme of In Other Words was organised in close cooperation with the festival, and created fruitful synergies for participants and the festival public. Many guests of the ICORN and PEN meeting were engaged in conversations, panels, speeches and exhibitions at the festival, and embraced the programme at the Norwegian Literature Festival during the time at Lillehammer.
Key events were open to the festival and wider public, and were well attended, such as:
One day in Aleppo – Conversation between director Ali Al Ibrahim and Åsne Seierstad; Guantanamo Diary Live - Mohammedou Ould Slahi in conversation with Larry Siems; Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o in conversation with Grace Mutandwa; Across the great divide – A road trip by Anders Heger and Larry Siems; Safeguarding freedom of expression in Turkey, with Jørgen Lorentzen: Elif Günay, Burhan Sönmez, Abdollah Hejab, Irfan Babaoglu; Free Expression in a Post-Truth World with Ma Thida (Myanmar PEN), Hayla (Ukraine PEN) Salil Tripathi) William Nygaard (PEN Norway)
Following the reception dinner on Wednesday 30 May, with speeches from Mayor of Lillehammer, Espen Johnsen, the President of the Storting, Olemic Thommessen and State Secretary Laila Bokhari, PEN International launched their new campaign for relocation for writers at risk, Make Space, with statements from President of PEN International, Jennifer Clement and writer, Ngugi Wa Thiongo. People then moved to Maihaugsalen for the Opening performance, In Other Words, where distinguished artists from Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Palestine and Norway performed in a beautiful act curated by Erik Hillestad, exploring the experience of exile and being silenced.
ICORN writers and artists joined in readings and appeals in the Tent in the centre of Lillehammer with writers from the Norwegian Festival of Literature, supporting imprisoned writers, and in particular Asli Erdogan (Tyrkia), Narges Mahammadi (Iran), Khadija Ismailova (Azerbaijan), officially invited by the festival and appeared on screen in conversation.
The keynote speech on Thursday morning, the Bjørnson lecture by Kamila Shamsie, You Couldn’t Make This Up, was organised by the Norwegian Festival of Literature and PEN and ICORN jointly. A clever speech addressing all of us and reminding of our responsibility and ability to observe, shape and change narratives for a better world.
At the finals of the meeting Peter Normann Waage gave a lecture on What is freedom of expression and why is it so important? Two Norwegian journalists, Jan Zahl and Finn Våga, reported on their recent project, Forbidden Voices, where they had followed five ICORN writers/artists for one day in their city of refuge, and visited colleagues and friends in their respective home countries and cities. The project was exhibited in the foyer of the Maihaugsalen.
During the period, Tuesday 30 May – Sunday 4 June, Kulturhuset Banken hosted an exhibition, Cartooning Syria, feat. works by more than 20 Syrian cartoonists from Syria, curated by ICORN partners in Amsterdam, also exhibited in Amsterdam and Brussels.
Elephant Kunsthall hosted the FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION, Second international cartoon contest and exhibition, by tOOns MaG /Arifur Rahman and the Norwegian Cartoonist Gallery.
On Friday 2. June the audience were able to visit Bjerkebæk and Aulestad – the homes of The Nobel Prize in Literature winners Sigrid Undset and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson.
Next year, we will all meet in Malmö in Sweden, 2 – 3 May 2018!