The Freedom of Expression Stage at the Gothenburg Book Fair served as a platform for discussions on democracy, freedom of expression and the efforts in protecting and promoting writers, artists and journalists at risk. With one of the Gothenburg’s main themes for 2023 being ‘The City’, the ICORN City of Refuge was at the heart of the discussions on the role of the urban environment as a place of sanctuary, both literally and metaphorically.
The four-day programme included a series of panel discussions featuring writers, artists, and journalists who are, or were, ICORN residents. Among those were Asieh Amini, Mahsa Malekmarzban, Khaled Harara, Duaa Kamel, Asli Ceren Aslan, Ahmad Azzam, Zahra Hussaini, and Saiful Baten Tito. The participants shared their expertise and lived experience on a variety of issues, including artistic freedom in exile, and democracy and freedom of expression more widely. In addition, there were country-specific conversations on literature in Iran, and the worsening conditions of free expression in Turkey.
In the panel ‘The Space Between: Writers in Exile- What Can We Do?’, writer and journalist Mahsa Malekmarzban and musician Khaled Harara shared their professional and personal perspectives on working from exile. They were joined by Anna Hjerpe and Daniel Gustafsson who shed light on the involvement of ICORN coordinators and cultural administrators in supporting writers and artists in exile. The conversation explored the challenges and advantages of relocating to an entirely new environment as a creative professional, and the potential to create fresh cultural references and furthering one’s career. The participants also talked about the importance of their host country being prepared to be inclusive and to encourage new and diverse forms of artistic expression.
A discussion on the role of ICORN Cities of Refuge in protecting and promoting free expression came under the title: ‘Taking a Stand for Freedom of Expression as Cities: The Power of the ICORN Network’. Poet and writer Duaa Kamel, the Chair of Swedish PEN Kerstin Almegård, author Sjón, and ICORN’s Executive Director Helge Lunde shared their respective experiences of the ICORN Network. Duaa Kamel provided a first-hand account of the impact protective residencies can have on one’s life and professional pursuits. Sjón talked about his work in anchoring the ICORN programme in Reykjavik and the practical aspects of running an ICORN residency. Helge Lunde offered insight into
The Freedom of Expression Stage was co-organised by Bookfair, Gothenburg City’s Cultural Department, Hanaholmen, Jonsereds Herrgård, Gothenburg Univeristy, The Swedish Academy, Voksenåsen, the WIN WIN Gothenburg Sustainability Award, and ICORN. Nordisk Kulturfond and Nordisk Kulturkontakt funded the initiative.