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art, Freedom to Create, poverty, women

Art to empower the most traumatized

You are in a pretty horrific situation if you think that setting yourself on fire is the only way to escape from it. The aftermath of attempted self-immolation by some Afghani women is documented in photographs by Lynsey Addario, at a new exhibit in New York.

The art at the Freedom to Create exhibit at the Ana Tzarev Gallery is not limited to these terrible experiences though. The exhibit which opened with a forum about empowering women through creativity showcases art by women from countries such as Iran, Iraq, Nepal, Pakistan and Lebanon. Some of the work is an affirmation of being human in a society that may try to prohibit that expression. For example, Salome, a Iranian rapper and poet, is keen to point out that she is not a “feeble woman struggling to fight for her right to sing” in a country where arts and culture are heavily restricted, especially for female performers. She says she wants to be recognised for expressing herself creatively and not as a struggling woman in an oppressive society.

Freedom to Create which is a non-profit organization based in Singapore was established in 2006 to “harness the power art and culture to build more creative and prosperous societies” and since 2008 has been awarding prizes to artists, too.

Vice president, Priti Devi, told me the organization believes in building societies from the bottom up.  She says: “We want people to use their talents to express themselves and to have the right to be creative that everyone must have.”  If people are able to express themselves they have the confidence to use it and do other things with it, such as using it in an entrepreneurial way and this can reap financial reward for the individual, the larger family and then society, according to Freedom to Create.

Devi says if this can happen the world’s attention can become focused on their activities which can help funnel in more money into their societies. She points out the recent events in Egypt as a broad example of people being forced to live “smaller” lives and not being part of a global economy. “They realised they were left out of prosperity and they realised they wanted to be a part of that. Flourishing is not just the right of a few people.”


About Herpreet Kaur Grewal

Herpreet Kaur Grewal is a newspaper-trained journalist, editor and commentator. She formerly wrote and edited a section for the social policy and politics magazine Regeneration & Renewal. She has worked for The Times of London and her articles have featured in The Guardian, The Observer and The Daily Express. She specialises in social deprivation issues, gender, human rights , arts and culture.


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Herpreet Kaur Grewal is an editor and journalist currently based in London.

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