The Cultural Weapon 23 March 2011

The Cultural Weapon

Mike van Graan

BLANKS: the new threat to the United Kingdom.

While the United Kingdom is certainly not shooting blanks in its defence of the lives and human rights of opponents of the Gaddafi dictatorship, at home, it is taking aim at the latest threat to British prosperity and security: Black Artists with No Kids and who happen to be Single (BLANKS).

A senior and committed member of Arterial Network’s leadership was invited by a British arts organisation to attend the launch of a major international event featuring young artists from around the world, to be held in the United Kingdom in 2012.  With all the expenses of the participants to be covered by the host organisation, he was to be one of six African representatives (from outside South Africa) to the meeting this week.

But that has now been reduced to four.  Both he and the Kenyan representative were refused entry by the Border Agency of the UK’s Home Office for similar reasons.

The letter (edited below) from the Entry Clearance Officer stated:

“You have applied for an entry clearance to visit the United Kingdom for four days.

Any documents you have supplied in support of your application have been considered and recorded.  It has not been necessary to interview you in order to arrive at a decision on your application.

I accept that you have been invited to this event.  However I must take into consideration your personal circumstances…when coming to my decision.  You have failed to show that you have attended this type of event before whether in (your own) or another country.

I note that regular large cash deposits have been paid into this account throughout the statement period….This indicates that the account has been artificially inflated so I am not satisfied that it represents a true reflection of your financial circumstances.

You are not married or have any dependent children.  You have failed to submit evidence of any other strong family or social ties to your home country.

I recognise that your sponsor proposes to bear the costs of your visit.  However, I must take into account your economic and personal circumstances…when coming to my decision.  Therefore, on the balance of probabilities, I am not satisfied that you are genuinely seeking entry for a limited period not exceeding six months or that you intend to leave the United Kingdom at the end of the visit as required….I have therefore refused your application.

Previous Cultural Weapons have pointed out the utter hypocrisy and double-standards of the “civilised West” in their assault on cultural diversity, notwithstanding their being signatories to the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions that, among other things, strongly encourages access to the markets of the global north for, and the mobility of artists’ from, the global south.

Yet, this shameful letter again indicates the extent to which rich countries will go in stamping on the human dignity of “other”, particularly those from the poorer nations of the world.

First, it criminalises the applicant by declaring that he is not genuinely seeking entry to the UK for a limited period, or that he intends to leave the UK.  The real “crime” of the applicant then is that he lives (by choice, actually) in one of the poorer and more conflict-ridden countries of the continent, which makes him a prime candidate to “defect” to the United Kingdom, a land obviously flowing with milk and honey!

Second, it questions the bona fides, the integrity and the good faith of the applicant by accusing him of artificially inflating his financial statements because of the regular deposits of large cash into his account.  There is no attempt to understand the particular conditions of the artist in this country and the reasons for such payments; the arrogant assumption is that artists in Africa have to be paid in ways that conform to western banking or payroll standards. 

Thirdly, it prejudices a whole group of people – mainly young people – on the basis of such bizarre factors as not being married and not having children.  (African AIDS orphans should not bother to apply to visit United Kingdom, unless they have been selected as poster children for some self-serving British government campaign!)  

Fourthly, there is simply no attempt to determine whether the applicant is telling the truth or not.  An interview is not deemed necessary.  The host agency is not contacted to provide guarantees that the applicant will be covered for his stay.  The partner organisation is not invited to vouch for their representative who, incidentally, recently spent months as an artist-in-residence in another European country and who has travelled widely to a number of other countries.

Without irony, the letter ends with:

“Your application does not attract a full right of appeal…Your right of appeal is limited to any or all of the (following) grounds:

  1. the decision is unlawful by virtue of the Race Relations Act 1976… (discrimination by public authorities)
  2. the decision is unlawful under the Human Rights Act (public authority not to act contrary to Human Rights Convention)”

Ever quick to criticise and act against those in power who abuse human rights in Africa (unless it is a compliant and ruthless dictator serving their strategic political and/or economic interests), governments in the global north are unable to see the logs in their own eyes. Abusing the human rights of African artists is certainly not limited to African regimes.   

If an Arts Watch called for in last week’s Cultural Weapon is established to monitor the suppression of freedom of expression in Africa, it should be extended also to monitor the abuse of the human rights and dignity of African artists by European regimes.

Mike van Graan is the Secretary General of Arterial Network, a continent-wide network of artists, activists and creative enterprises active in the African creative sector and its contribution to development, human rights and democracy on the continent.  He is also the Executive Director of the African Arts Institute (AFAI), a South African NGO based in Cape Town that harnesses local expertise, resources and markets in the service of Africa’s creative sector.  He is considered to be one of his country’s leading contemporary playwrights.  This column is written in his individual capacity and is not necessarily representative of the views of any of the organisations with which he is associated.

For further information, see www.arterialnetwork.org, www.africanartsinstitute.org and www.mikevangraan.co.za

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About mikevangraan

Mike van Graan is currently a Richard von Weizsaecker Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin. He is a playwright, and most recently served as the Executive Director of the African Arts Institute. He was the founding Secretary General of Arterial Network, a civil society network of artists, activists and creative enterprises engaged in the African creative sector and its contribution to human rights, democracy and development on the continent. Currently, he also serves as a Technical Expert to UNESCO on the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.
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5 Responses to The Cultural Weapon 23 March 2011

  1. Zilanie says:

    This is sadly too common. Artists mostly cannot afford to travel to seek opportunities to market themselves and when given such rare opportunities, the authorities strike with bureacratic guff. I can share this experience – Just six months ago some Malawian musicians faced the same problem when applying for visas to perform in UK for Oxfam in all expenses paid sponsorship trip. The well established band leader failed to get the visa based on the fact that the passport (which contained many international incl European immigration stamps) seemed a bit worn by use and possibly tampered with?!…And so how does the band perform without him!?

  2. Amy Bonsall says:

    I am appalled but sadly not surprised by this – it really saddens me, and as a British Artist who was welcomed in South Africa I am very embarrased. I am sure there is little I can do but offer my support to you, but if you do think there is anything, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

    Very best wishes,

    Amy

  3. Pingback: UK: Points-Based Visas For Visiting Artists-is It Working For You?

  4. aisha says:

    What a pitty. This letter seems to be similar format with other visa refusals as in our country.Discrimination toward humans living in developing countries.

  5. “The Cultural Weapon 23 March 2011 | mikevangraan”
    ended up being a fantastic article. In case it owned much more
    images it would be even more effective. Cya
    ,Leanna

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