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August 24 2016

How Free is Free? Reflections on Freedom of Creative Expression in Africa

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Twenty-five Authors, Fourteen Countries in One Original Compilation

Article 19 of the Declaration of Human Rights states that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Although it is a recognised freedom, freedom of creative expression is viewed and experienced in different ways, depending on its discipline, the country in question and also regional historical precedents. Sometimes honoured, sometimes biased, sometimes violated and most often misunderstood, freedom of creative expression is much more complicated to explain and defend in practice, particularly in Africa.

In September 2014, Arterial Network, through its Artwatch Africa project, launched a call for contributions from writers, journalists and researchers from across the continent to share their opinions and knowledge on this broad topic. After months of committed work, a collection of selected writings was brought together to produce an original compilation titled How Free is Free? Reflections on Freedom of Creative Expression in Africa.

The free e-book includes emerging and established authors from diverse backgrounds, such as the celebrated Senegalese author Boubacar Boris Diop who contributed the short story ‘Une journée parisienne’ that takes the reader into the world of the fictional character called Dembo Diatta, who is pushed to the edge after the Charlie Hebdo attack and struggles to hold his tongue with friends he has had for twenty years.

Also included is an essay by the late Chenjerai Hove of Zimbabwe. Titled ‘Beautiful Words Are Subversive,’ the essay offers some of the writer’s personal reflections, on politics, what it is to be an artist, as well as exploring a few of his own questions on the matter and his aspirations for the future:

"Subversive art is that art which makes the viewer, the reader, feel newly persuaded to question the way they have always thought the world is organised, the world of values. To write is to create new values, to move from old spaces into the realm of new spaces of the imagination. A book, and any effective piece of art, searches for new spaces in order to enrich them while at the same time enriching the old spaces by removing the rust of the imaginative spaces of the old."

Freedom and its Limits
The political aspects of freedom of creative expression are discussed at length in the book through a multitude of texts, such as ‘The Art and Artists of Sudan: A History of Harassment” by Mohamed Abusabib and the analysis of Professor Patrick Ebewo that poses the limits of freedom of creative expression when it comes to the responsibilities of artists as public personas, as explored in his essay, ‘Freedom of Creative and Artistic Expression in the Performing Arts: A Critical Reflection.’

Responsibility is a topic of debate that the South African judge, Albie Sachs, also explores in his contribution to the book, writing that: "In some respects, the conscience of the writer might be more expansive than the limits of the law and even defy the law. In other respects, it’s narrower than the law. In a democratic society that protects free speech and freedom of artistic creativity, you have a general responsibility to stay within the limits of the law. But your responsibility does not begin and end with what is constitutionally permissible. In a society based on the principles of human dignity, equality and freedom, writers are called upon to honour their fellow human beings and show respect for their craft."

25 Authors, 14 Countries
The e-book was produced as part of the Artwatch Africa project that aims to defend freedom of creative expression on the continent, and who better than the artists themselves to share their creative environment, their questions and their experiences.

In total, twenty-five authors representing fourteen countries were selected to be included in the compilation that is available to download for free from the Arterial Network website and through a multitude of different e-reader platforms, such as World Reader. It has been optimised for mobile, tablet and Kindle viewing.

How Free is Free? Reflections on Freedom of Creative Expression in Africa is above all a meditation on the artistic health of the continent, as lived and examined from twenty-five diverse, artistic viewpoints. This publication is a first for Arterial Network and it will be used as a tool to promote advocacy for freedom of expression and creative arts in Africa.

To download the e-book in English, click here. To download the e-book in French, click here

Several launch events and workshops will be held in the coming months in various countries in order to celebrate the release of the book. To find out more about the upcoming events, follow Arterial Network on Facebook and Twitter.

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