Britain puts out an unwelcome mat

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For Artists and Performers, Britain Puts Out an Unwelcome Mat (New York Times)

From left: John Ewing, Korine Fujiwara, Charles Wetherbee and Kristin Ostling of the Carpe Diem Quartet. Photo: Karina Wetherbee


Published: October 19, 2011

The system, intended to limit the influx of foreigners at a time of economic and security tensions, seems straightforward enough on paper. While some artists qualify for ?temporary worker? status, the rules are intended to ensure that those who make brief visits for exhibitions, festivals, readings and the like do not earn money or try to remain in the country. But they have proved so onerous and so open to subjective misreading that even people who have been coming to Britain for years are suddenly being refused entry.
?Artists and authors are being treated as if they are potential economic migrants or terrorists,? said Jonathan Heawood, director of the literary human-rights group English PEN, which has been pressing the government to loosen the rules. ?Essentially the government is trying to crowbar them into a system that wasn?t designed for them and that sees them as a threat and not a benefit.?
Recent victims of the system include the Russian-born, New York-residing beat poet Alex Galper, who was turned away when he planned to read for no fee at a charity event; the Georgian artist Gela Patashuri, who was commissioned to produce a work for a London gallery but whose visa was denied because the authorities said they were ?not satisfied? with his qualifications; and the renowned Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, who canceled plans to direct ?Cos? Fan Tutte? at the English National Opera after his visa was granted and then withdrawn, and he was told to re-apply and to give his fingerprints again.
Britain is not the only Western country with tough borders. The United States has a notoriously arduous visa application system that has led to numerous well-publicized cases of artists and performers being refused entry.
But in Europe, Britain stands out for the strictness of its policies and the apparent inconsistencies in the way it enforces them.
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Phaidon?s new book ?Blink?

It?s a free world, they tell us. A free market economy, where we can ?choose? the life we want to lead. A world without barriers, for some. The ?centres? of photography are not accidental constructions. Neither is the conscious decision to live and work outside them an accidental one. As an outsider, I have identified with these photographers. Not all of them live outside the west. Some have even chosen the corporate world as their arena. But they have all chosen to be different. They too are outsiders.

These are photographers who have intrigued me. Whom I?ve learned to love, whose work gives me joy, and people for whom I have an abiding respect. In some cases, I know of them only through their work: A book, an exhibition, perhaps a film. The Internet has introduced me to the work of a select few, and in some cases provided surprising insight into the work of those I thought I already knew. Others are personal friends, comrades on a well-trodden path, fellows in exile. Some are young, others not so young, but they are all people who have chosen to stay away, and have carved out a space of their own. The pressure from dominant cultures is relentless, and these independent spirits will often be alone. This book I hope will strengthen the scaffolding of these peripheral spaces, without making them grist to the mill.

Shahidul Alam

Look out for the work of the photographers of my choice, Abir Abdullah, Pablo Garber, Sameera Huque, Eva Leitolf, Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, Mala Mukerjee, Swapan Parekh, Plonk & Replonk, Michel Szulc-Kryzanowski, Hywell Waters, and the work of the ninety other photographers chosen by Marcelo Brodsky, Joan Foncuberta, Alasdair Foster, Dennis Freedman, Christine Frisinghelli, Shino Kuraishi, Simon Njami, Wendy Watriss and Paul Wombell, in ?Blink? the new book by Phaidon. (ISBN 0714841994) Phaidon Press.

The massive book also contains essays by writers of our choice, Frits Gierstberg, Christian H?ller, Vinay Lal, Angel Moll?, Jean Loup Pivin, Arundhati Roy, Charles Stainback & Vik Muniz, Hripsim? Visser, Peter Watson, and Akihito Yasumi & Osamu Kanemura