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Intimidation often happens in dark corners, we shine a bright light.
— Hunter Heaney, Co-founder

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The “Imprisoned for Art” campaign enlists Peter Gabriel, Johnny Depp, Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova, Edward Sharpe’s Alex Ebert, Tom Morello and Ana Tijoux to advocate on behalf of artists imprisoned around the world for freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression — it’s easy to take it for granted until it’s gone. We speak up for those who speak out, for those imprisoned around the globe for having raised their voice in dissent. We have to stand up for each other, no matter the distance, no matter the borders. You never know when you’ll need the same in return.

Imprisoned for Art Campaign

Each artist is paired with a currently imprisoned counterpart, whose arrest information is displayed on a traditional mugshot police board. T-shirts, tank tops and hoodies bearing this striking image will be sold and the funds used for advocacy efforts. The campaign goal is to step up efforts to free dissidents currently imprisoned for simply using their art and voices to speak out.

The pairings are as follows (alphabetically):

Johnny Depp with filmmaker Oleg Sentsov imprisoned in Russia
Alex Ebert with singer Trần Vũ anh Bình imprisoned in Vietnam
Peter Gabriel with author and journalist Dawit Isaak imprisoned in Eritrea
Tom Morello with painter and journalist Tom Dundee imprisoned in Thailand
Ana Tijoux with poet Ashraf Fayadh imprisoned in Saudi Arabia
Nadya Tolokonnikova with singer Nûdem Durak imprisoned in Turkey

 

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Nadya Tolokonnikova from Pussy Riot says:
“Unfortunately, America is about to start looking more like Russia under Putin, it’s already happening, and dissent is going to become a more dangerous business. But that just means dissent is more important than ever. The good news is we can learn from each other, help each other—that we are stronger than we think, both individually and collectively, we have more fight in us that we believe. I know this from being a person in prison, but also from seeing all the people who banded together to get me out.”

“Voice Project were the main ones coordinating the support for us while we were in the camps. They did a lot to advocate for our release, they kept a spotlight on what was going on and that was really important because it helped keep us safe – the prison officials knew that the whole world was watching what they did to us. That is an important tactic in these situations.”

“And they [Voice Project] also did other things behind the scenes that people don’t know so much about, like getting food and warm clothes to us in the prison, especially after they moved me to Siberia, and hiring local lawyers who had access to come into the prison and check on us to see if we were being beaten or starved or whatever. It’s too bad that an organization like this has to exist – Hunter would be the first to say that – but when you are sitting in a cold prison cell or labor camp just for having painted a picture or written a fucking song criticizing your government, you are very glad that they do.”

“Doing this shirt may seem like a small thing, but every person who wears one, that’s one more billboard, one representative out there who could tell someone who asks about Nudem and her story. We have to stand up to governments, whether it’s Russia or Turkey or America, and say that it’s not ok to go back to the ages of tyranny. We have to do loudly and we have to do it together, and be there for each other, now more than ever.”

The campaign is an artist led effort, conceived together with Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Ebert says: “Solidarity is all we have in a fight against systematic oppression. It is the one true super power within human reach. The privileged standing with the oppressed. The comfortable with the uncomfortable. To oppress art is to oppress the spirit that makes art, and if another’s spirit is oppressed, mine cannot rest. So we give this small token for our oppressed friends, in solidarity.”

Peter Gabriel says, “When I first started traveling around the world [for the Human Rights Now tour in 1988], I was shocked to discover in how many countries there were artists who were in jail, or who had been tortured or killed for doing exactly the same thing that I do — writing and singing songs. We have to defend and protect those with the courage to speak out.”

Tom Morello says, “You can’t buy free speech, but you can give it away. You can also fight like hell for it.”

Hunter Heaney, Co-founder & Executive Director The Voice Project says: “Freedom of expression is the foundational right for a free society, and it’s where one has to draw the battle lines when it’s threatened, because when it’s gone, then it’s just a matter of time for all the other human rights, you see this all over the world. It will be difficult for people to think along these lines in the US because it’s mostly been a problem in other parts of the world, a problem “over there,” but I think the realization is coming now, that freedoms and rights are a fluid thing, that they go away, have gone away in many places, and we’re not immune in the US.

In the fight against repressive regimes and specifically in our business of working for those who get imprisoned, there are certain tactics that we’ve seen work well, and one of the keys is strength in numbers, not getting splintered and divided in spite of the tactics employed to make that happen. Our job gets easier when people are there for each other, and can’t be shaken from that.

Anna Gabriel, Co-founder & Creative Director who shot the photographs, says: “We took inspiration from those classic old black and white mug shots of artists like Jim Morrison – I’ve always loved Jane Fonda’s, with her fist in the air. She’s so strongly defiant in that, it so perfectly captures that essence of someone unbowed, someone willing to speak truth to power despite the consequences. The types of people we’re defending are ones who have spoken out in spite of the consequences, and that takes courage, so I wanted to make a connection to powerful imagery. If it’s jarring to see some recognized faces with ten year sentences hanging around their necks, that’s good, it should be.”

 

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