Stop the deportation of Narek Aghajanyan

AICA, the Swedish Art Critics’ Association and KRO/KIF urge the Swedish Migration Board to let the asylum-seeking Armenian artist Narek Aghajanyan stay in Sweden. It is yet another case of a visual artist who risks expulsion and it shows that it is high time that the government takes a stand for offering cities of refuge also for visual artists.

Sweden has a history of standing up for the freedom of expression by showing solidarity with artists who have the courage to criticize repressive regimes. Narek Aghajanyan is one of those artists who have been harassed in their homeland because of their art and whose basic human rights are not respected.

Narek Aghajanyan fled Armenia for Sweden in 2010 and sought asylum. He had been threatened and manhandled, and his art had been destroyed. In Yerevan, Armenia, the authorities refused to let him arrange an exhibition in memory of the 10 protesters who were killed during the disturbances following the presidential elections of 2008. The Migration Court of Appeal has rejected his appeal and Narek Aghajanyan, his wife and daughter now face deportation.

“Narek Aghajanyan’s fundamental human rights and his right to express himself through his art are under serious threat if he is forced out of Sweden. KRO/KIF find the decision of the Migration Board incomprehensible and believe it must be reconsidered,” says Karin Willén who is president of the Swedish Artists’ National Organisation (KRO).

Today there are cities of refuge in Sweden only for writers, not for visual artists or musicians. The deportation decision in question shows yet again how the refugee policies fail to protect targeted free visual artists and their right to freedom of expression. KRO/KIF and the Swedish Art Critics’ Association therefore urge the government to take responsibility for establishing cities of refuge for persecuted artists in all forms of art. Naturally, our organizations will offer to contribute with knowledge and competence.

AICA (Association International des Critiques d’Art) and the Swedish Art Critics’ Association appeal in a letter to several ministers in the Swedish government and to the Migration Board, to let Narek Aghajanyan stay in Sweden and freely practice his art.

“KRO/KIF stand behind this letter. It is a given, as one of our main missions is to work for the freedom of expression and artistic freedom. If the government and the Migration Board find it justifiable to expel vulnerable artists to their native countries where they risk persecution, they are also taking part in censorship and repression,” says KRO President Karin Willén.

Press contact:
Patrik Steorn, vice president of the Swedish Art Critics’ Association
patrik.steorn@gmail.com, mobile number +46 709797954

Karin Willén, president, KRO
karin@kro.se, mobile number +46 707407242

KRO/KIF, the Swedish Artists’ National Organisation is the Swedish visual artists’ interest group. KRO organizes artists with a higher education diploma or at least five years of professional experience. KRO works on national and regional levels and in local work groups. The Association of Swedish Craftsmen and Designers gathers artists and craftsmen who work with applied arts, i.e., who apply their artistic skills to specific materials. Together, KRO/KIF represent more than 3,300 Swedish visual and design artists.
www.kro.se

AICA, Association International des Critiques d’Art/the International Association of Art Critics, is a global organization whose goal it is to support art criticism around the world, in all its forms and different genres. For AICA, the freedom of expression is an important principle and a fundamental civil right which must be defended. AICA was founded in 1948, is recognized as an NGO (non-governmental organization) by UNESCO since 1951 and today has over 4,600 members in 61 national and regional sections across the world.
www.aica-int.org

The Swedish Art Critics’ Association, the Swedish section of AICA, is a non-profit association that gathers professionally active art critics in all media, education or the curating of exhibitions. The members are primarily concerned with modern and contemporary art from all cultures; there are 262 members in the Swedish section. The mission of the association is to promote the understanding and critical interpretation of visual arts in all their histories and manifestations. An important goal is to impartially defend freedom of expression and thought, and to fight censorship.
www.aicasweden.org

AICA’s letter: Narek Aghajanyan

It has been drawn to our attention that Narek Aghajanyan, an Armenian artist and political activist, who with his wife and daughter, has been a refugee in Sweden since 2010, has been declined permission by the Swedish Migration Board to remain living and working in Sweden.

We were informed by the Swedish section of AICA that Mr Aghajanyan’s 2010 exhibition in Yerevan, Armenia, which engaged with political and social issues, was hindered by the Armenian authorities and subsequently his artworks were destroyed. After being threatened and beaten, he and his family left the country for Sweden. Given the censorship and violent treatment he experienced in Armenia, a
course of events confirmed by his lawyer, he is understandably very concerned about returning to his country. We support Mr Aghajanan’s case to remain in Sweden where his civil rights will be assured more protection.

The International Association of Art Critics (AICA) is a global organization, established in 1948, comprising art critics who are anxious to improve international cooperation in the fields of artistic creativity, mediation and endeavour. AICA firmly believes that freedom of expression is an important principle and as a basic civil right must be defended.

A hallmark of a democracy is its willingness to allow, consider and withstand critical as well as benign points of view. As such it underlines the role and importance of art to engage with social and political issues in a free and open society. We feel it is our duty then to respond to and support cases such as that of Narek Aghajanyan and would therefore ask the Swedish Migration Board to reconsider its decision to deny Mr Aghajanyan and his family permission to remain in Sweden.

Marek Bartelik, President of AICA
Liam Kelly, Chair of AICA Commission on Censorship and Freedom of Expression

For web site, see: www.aica-int.org/spip.php?article1370 (accessed 15 October 2012)

Swedish AICA Report of activities at AICA´s Administrative Council meeting on March 4, 2006 in Paris

Christian Chambert

1. Time for new strategies in art criticism
Locale: Göteborg Museum of Art. Date: Saturday 5 November 2005. Guest speakers: Sara Arrhenius, curator for this year’s art biennial; Christian Chambert, president of the Swedish section of AICA; Marie Demker, professor in political science, Göteborg University; Ingrid Elam, head of Department of Art, Culture and Communication (K3), Malmö University; Discussion leader: Sophie Allgårdh, art critic for the national daily, Svenska Dagbladet. The conversation was conducted in Swedish. The Swedish section of AICA arranged the round table in collaboration with the Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art 2005.

2. On December 18, 2005 Swedish AICA arranged the annual Christmas party, this time at the landmark Stockholm restaurant Lydmar with its international touch, the watering hole for people in the cultural field, famous for its concerts and exhibitions. The invitation was open to all people in the art world.

3. The Artist in the Making and the Reality of Art Criticism
On February 17, 2006 the Stockholm Art Fair in Sollentuna in collaboration with Swedish AICA offered two seminars on the situation of young artists and the way that influences their writing about art and art criticism. Program coordinator: Sophie Allgårdh, acting editor of Paletten, freelance critic at Svenska Dagbladet and Swedish Radio. The seminars were held in Swedish.

a. Artist, Come Hell or High Water
Lineup: Gertrud Sandqvist, Department Head, Malmö Art Academy; Andreas Ribbung, artist and producer of the exhibition ”Vardande” [In the Making]; Ola Gustafsson, Galleri ELASTIC in Malmö, with a focus on the international art scene; Beatrice Ehrström, student at Valand School of Fine Arts with a B.S. in economics, specializing in the finances of artists; Christian Chambert, President, Swedish Art Critics Association; Moderator: Sophie Allgårdh.

b. The Artist Eye to Eye with the Art Critic
Lineup: Fredrik Svensk, freelance critic, Göteborgsposten, board member, Paletten, and instructor at Valand School of Fine Arts and the School of Photography; Fia-Stina Sandlund, artist with a speciality in norm- and power-analysis; Jessica Kempe, freelance critic at Dagens Nyheter; Måns Holst-Ekström, senior lecturer at The Royal University College of Fine Arts; Christian Chambert, President, Swedish Art Critics Association; Moderator: Sophie Allgårdh.

4. After the Administrative Council meeting on March 4, 2006 the Director of Centre Culturel Suédois (CCS) Annika Levin invited the board members to the centre and briefly informed them about Hôtel de Marle and about the activities of the centre. Sophie Allgårdh gave her personal perspective on the energetic cutting edge art scene in Sweden. The Director of Malmö Konstmuseum Göran Christenson introduced his show at CCS, Malmö – Marais art contemporain suédois du Malmö Konstmuseum, running at the centre from March 3.

5. The Call of the Site – Yearning for Art
Lecture in English by Peter Noever. Date: 7 March, 2006. Venue: Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. The lecture had been jointly organized by Craft in Dialogue/IASPIS, Swedish Art Critics Association and the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.

6. The Swedish AICA section is planning a round table in September 2006, which will be held in Swedish, with the preliminary title Art in Public Spaces.

7. The board member Margareta Tillberg has recently been commissioned to take care of the editing, in two separate volumes, of the proceedings of the round tables A New Deal and Pressures on Art Criticism. The books will be published in June 2006.

8. Information about the section’s public programs is distributed in Swedish by e-mail to about 2.300 addresses, including the members of the section, in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Most programs are also sent out world wide in English and are at the same time published in the two language versions on the web site: http://www.aicasweden.org The site recently got a new technical design which makes it easier to navigate.

Restany – a charismatic critic with several enemies

The passionate art critic Pierre Restany (born 1930), who passed away this Ascension Day, was perhaps the last of the old kind in France. Hardly anyone was as active, constantly debating, with esprit and culture-critical energy, all around the world even though globalisation had yet to become a prestige word. Among other things, he was the standard-bearer for Nouveaux Réalistes (the first large exhibition in 1960) featuring Yves Klein, Arman, Martial Raysse, Daniel Spoerri, César, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Jean Tinguely, Christo and many more.

I would bump into Restany at Café Beaubourg, where he gathered a young generation of critics and artists around him. He would often stay away from the institutions, with one important exception, when in 2002 he shouldered the moral responsibility as President for Palais de Tokyo with curiosity for this grand, ground-breaking artistic and social experiment, and because of his friendship with, and support of, the two directors Nicolas Bourriaud and Jérôme Sans.

Pierre Restany made many enemies when he claimed that France no longer was the nexus of contemporary art, and when he harshly criticised French cultural policy. But he was also charismatic when he lectured at the congresses of AICA, the international organisation of art critics, with his white flowing beard, white shirt, his head slightly leaned backwards, the cigar, the closed eyes, the inward listening and the somewhat nasal voice, which stressed each individual syllable in order to give maximal emphasis to that art experience which filled him and which he could convey with such intensity.

Christian Chambert Chairman of Svenska Konstkritikersamfundet Vice President AICA

[Published in Svenska Dagbladet, Stockholm on June 7, 2003. Translation from the Swedish by Joakim Gleisner.]

Report. AICA. Administrative Council, 21.X.2002

General Assembly, 24.X.2002, Ecole Nationale Supérieur des Beaux-Arts, 14 rue Bonaparte, Paris.

Dear colleagues and friends,
The title of the AICA round-table at Manifesta 4 was ”Art as Social Construction?” The event took place during the opening days of Manifesta 4 on Saturday May 25, 2002 at 6 p.m. in Manifesta’s Trespassing Space in Frankfurt am Main. Manifesta 4 had no theme, no label, which was a part of the curatorial strategy. But the AICA title was close to the work of the three curators, Iara Boubnova, Sofia, Nuria Enguita Mayo, Barcelona and Stéphanie Moisdon Trembley, Paris. On August 14, 2001, I got a letter from Martin Fritz, coordinator of Manifesta 4, asking for the possibility of an AICA round-table in Frankfurt. The strategy for future AICA round-tables was discussed at the General Assembly on October 4, 2001 in Zagreb. The event in Frankfurt was organised by AICA’s Manifesta Commission including the three Executive Board members, Kim Levin, president, Ramon Tio Bellido, general secretary and Angelica Bäumer, general treasurer, Henry Meyric Hughes, president of the I.F.M., and the vice presidents Evelyn Weiss, German section of AICA, and Christian Chambert, who also coordinated the activities. The close cooperation with I.F.M. from now on was announced at the Administrative Council in Paris on February 22, 2002. There is a formal partnership with Manifesta including Manifesta 4 and the next two ones, Manifesta 5 in 2004 in San Sebastian and Manifesta 6 in 2006. The Executive Board of AICA decided in the last moment to continue the planning of the round-table, despite the fact that the promised funding was not yet made available. AICA is still waiting for the money to pay the fees agreed on to the panelists and also other expenses. As there was no money in the budget for travel expenses for panelists coming from outside Germany the organisers had to profit from the fact that the non German speakers we wanted to invite were going to go to Frankfurt anyhow. Hopefully it will be possible next time to pay the travel expenses for participants coming from other European countries and from outside Europe. The AICA round-table at Manifest 4 in Frankfurt was the fifth one I organised together with Kim; the previous four being Manifesta 2 in Luxembourg, 1998, Ars Aevi in Sarajevo, 1999, Manifesta 3 in Ljubljana, 2000 and the biennial in Istanbul 2001. I am grateful for the intense and stimulating cooperation with Kim during the years. It has helped AICA to take a vitalising jump right into the middle of the contemporary art scene.

The invited speakers were: Kim Levin, New York, president AICA, art critic Village Voice; Ira Boubnova, Sofia, curator Manifesta 4, senior curator in the Museum of Fine Arts, Sofia; Sabine Vogel, Berlin, art critic Berliner Zeitung, curator; Jon Mikel Euba, Bilbao, artist Manifesta 4; Ekaterina Degot, Moscow, curator, art historian, art critic; moderator: John Peter Nilsson, Stockholm, vice president AICA, vice president Swedish AICA, art critic Aftonbladet, editor NU: The Nordic Art Review.

The round-table was held in English in a crowded auditorium. The panelists described a variety of inspiring aspects on the theme. The discussion was lively and we got a lot of interesting questions and contributions to the debate from the audience. The program along with a short introducing text was published on the Internet by international AICA and by Swedish AICA. The event was announced by the organisers of the Manifesta 4 programs at http://www.manifesta.de In the printed program of the biennial you could find information about the AICA round-table. I sent out the program by e-mail to hundreds of addresses; to critics, artists, institutions and others. We also distributed a leaflet in Frankfurt. The round-table was open to the public with no entrance fee. The discussion was taped by the Manifesta 4 staff and a copy is available at the headquarters of AICA in Paris.

I was in constant contact with Kim concerning the planning of the round-table. AICA is grateful to all the panelists who accepted the invitation with short notice and a lot of enthusiasm. We are very thankful to all the AICA people and others who helped us collect the short list of names for the panel. Special thanks goes to Ramon Tio Bellido, Nada Beros, Iara Boubnova, Hedwig Fijen, Martin Fritz, Antje von Graevenitz, Marieka van Haal, Thomas Thiel and to John Peter Nilsson, Anders Olofsson and other colleagues of the board of the Swedish AICA section, who all gave good advice and proposed excellent speakers. We are also happy for the collaboration with Manifesta 4, its board, its administrative and technical staff, the three curators and the exhibiting artists.

I look forward to deepening the collaboration with Manifesta in the coming events. I also hope that it will be possible for AICA to develop the idea of round-tables at other events, not least outside Europe.

At the end of November 2001 I was invited to Sarajevo by Ars Aevi to give a lecture on contemporary art. Furthermore I participated in ”Forum Ars Aevi 1992 – 2002 On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Ars Aevi in Sarajevo 22 – 25 June 2002.” This was the fourth time during four years I visited Sarajevo to attend meetings organised by Ars Aevi. I communicated anniversary greetings from Kim Levin and AICA. At the seminar ”Ars Aevi Museum in Progress” I presented my reflections on the project including new ideas for the future. Among others we listened to the following speakers: Bruno Cora, Jesa Denegri, Baronessa Lucrezia De Domizio Durini, Enver Hadziomerspahic, Lorand Hegyi, Henry Meyric Hughes, Meliha Husedzinovic, Joseph Kosuth, Beral Madra, Asja Mandic, Edin Numankadic, Sania Papa, Efi Strousa and Harald Szeemann.

I was invited by Yugoslav art critics and curators to visit Belgrade, where I saw colleagues at several meetings between June 25 and June 28, 2002. The idea was to meet with art critics, art historians and curators and to exchange information and ideas between the newly reconstructed Yugoslav AICA section and international AICA. Among others I met Zoran Pavlovic, new president of the Yugoslav section, Branislava Andjelkovic, Zoran Eric, Zana Gvozdenovic, Lidija Merenik, Irina Subotic and Jelena Vesic. The members of the Yugoslav section told me about a lot of projects for the future. The discussions were constructive and will be continued. The trip to Sarajevo and Belgrade in June was funded by the Swedish Institute in Stockholm.

Thank you for your attention.

Christian Chambert
chairman Special Projects and Programs
President Swedish AICA, Vice President AICA

[The report has been supplemented after the General Assembly.]

Art criticism moving forward!

From Konstperspektiv 2002/3

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Charlotte Bydler, art historian and critic, and Christian Chambert, chairman of Svenska Konstkritikersamfundet

Lately we have seen how cultural journalism has been scrutinized in media. Konstperspektiv met with Charlotte Bydler, art historian and critic, and Christian Chambert, chairman of Svenska Konstkritikersamfundet, to talk about the status of cultural journalism with a special focus on the art criticism.

KONSTPERSPEKTIV: What differentiates art journalism from other forms of cultural journalism?

CHARLOTTE: Before answering that question you need to be aware that art criticism looks different in different media. But they have certain things in common, for example that they usually discuss news of some kind. The criticism is by tradition evaluating, but it has also a strong pedagogic task in introducing and presenting art and artists that are not immediately spotted.

CHRISTIAN: It’s no coincidence that the criticism is debated right now. Culture journalism is in a crisis, and is struggling to find a new audience. This has led to the critical coverage becoming mixed with other material, and sometimes it can be hard for a non-initiated reader to decide which genre a text belongs to. I think that art criticism, especially during periods of crisis, should take the offensive in telling what is worth our attention.

CHARLOTTE: I’m not sure I agree that this is a problem. Maybe for the critics and the artists, but not for the reader who gets the chance to read more texts which eventually can lead to a visit to an exhibition. KP: Most people probably like to read positive texts that encourage to see an exhibition. But how about the critical and assessing texts – are they threatened?

CHRISTIAN: I would say that it’s the art that is threatened. Many critics want to support new art because it’s supposed to be endangered. That’s understandable, but the consequence can easily be that the critical scrutiny is overlooked inspite of it being important.

KP: Isn’t there a risk that close personal contacts blunt the critical sharpness?

CHARLOTTE: I honestly don’t know how, as a critic, you can avoid getting to know artists. After all, they are the most important source of knowledge about the works. Of course there can be an unintended influence, but that’s someting every individual has to be observant of. Maybe we should do as in scientific journals where the writer always has to state the personal relation to their subject, for example who has financed the research. This kind of ethics is missing completely in the field of art.

CHRISTIAN: It is common, for young writers especially, to write about artist-friends in the same generation. I don’t see anything strange in that. Neither is it unusual today that the artists themselves write about their own and their colleagues’ works, often in a very inspiring way. But I agree that it is a question of credibility that the writer is clear about his role when writing a certain text.

KP: Sometimes you hear, especially from artists, that the critics have got too much power.

CHRISTIAN: It’s probably the power of the media they mean. And they have definitely got a lot of power. But you have to remember that there will never be as many critics as artists. Therefore there will inevitably be a power relation, which I think is less palpable today than earlier since the number of media and writers has increased.

CHARLOTTE: Of course it can be tough to have work criticized without being able to defend it. However, we shouldn’t forget that the art criticism isn’t about the relation between artists and critics only. Most important is the audience, and if we want the art criticism to develop we need an open discussion about it where all parties can have their say.

KP: Is it a problem that the art criticism only seems to adress its traditional audience, the educated middle class that no longer exists?

CHRISTIAN: I don’t quite recognise that description. Undeniably a lot has happened. Today several papers have writers of different ages and with varying background. And new writers are recruited all the time.

CHARLOTTE: We can be happy about the proportionally large variety in Sweden’s limited art life. But still the critics in national media comment on more or less the same exhibitions. There is still only one ”system” to work within so to speak. Everyone agrees that the criticism should single out the important – but the question is for whom? The art with an international focus in the cities has a completely different audience than the local art that exists both in cities and in the countryside.

KP: Is the selection for the art criticism too narrow? Is too much left out of the coverage?

CHARLOTTE: I think most of today’s critics are pretty familiar with new media. They know less about all the subcultures that we can see on the art scen today. It would be good if media could use different writers for different kinds of art, more like the case is in music criticism. There’s still this old idea that art kan be evaluated according to a common standard, but it cannot and because of this a lot of art is considered uninteresting or irrelevant.

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Christian Chambert and Anders Olofsson

CHRISTIAN: We shouldn’t forget that the art scene has changed quite dramatically since the mid 90’s. It used to be less common that foreign artists were shown in Sweden. Today almost always some are here, and Swedish artists exhibit frequently on the international arena. It’s nice, but at the same time it has become more difficult for the critics to follow what’s happening. For the artists there is a well developed system for grants which makes the participation in this international exchange easier, but for critics there’s no equivalent. That is a big disadvantage.

CHARLOTTE: And often it’s only possible to read about Swedish successes abroad. It’s very provincial. KP: Are we really that uninterested in the rest of the world? After all a lot is written about foreign art in Swedish press.

CHARLOTTE: That’s true. But most of these texts describe what is happening on the cosmopolitan art scene, on the big international exhibitions like all the biennials. Very few critics take an interest in local phenomenons. And that uninterest applies to both Sweden and other countries.

CHRISTIAN: Yes, we mustn’t loose the local perspective. After all the local level is where the audience is. We also have to realize that to audience and artists in many other parts of the world, in for example Turkey, Cuba, India or Eastern Europe, the possibilities of travel are not as good as here, and the big international exhibitions are often their only chance to get a glimpse of the art outside their home country. But still the biggest problem is that the criticism is still too narrowly focused on western art, and shows very little interest in exhibitions in the third world.

KP: Finally, what do you wish for on behalf of the art criticism in the future?

CHARLOTTE: Most of all I would like to see a division of the critics into different special fields, so that all kinds of art expressions can be handled with the same competence.

CHRISTIAN: Since the conditions of the art criticism ultimately is a matter of resources I would also wish for more generous economical frames, so that the critics can develop in their professional roll. I’m mainly thinking about means for travels and furtherance and money for penetrating articles that take longer time to write.

Text and photo: Anders Olofsson

Facts: Svenska Konstkritikersamfundet is a voluntary organisation and the Swedish section of AICA (Association Internationale des Critiques d’Art). It’s an organisation under the umbrella of UNESCO and has ca 250 members. Read more about the association and its activities on http://www.aicasweden.org/

Translated from the Swedish by Carina Ode