connect Finalist / 2019

Art in Protest LA Residency

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge by Human Rights Foundation

We would like to host various artists from around the world who are seeking a free and creative space to showcase their art and tell their stories. Our first artist would be Saudi feminist Mural Artist, Ms. Saffaa, who we hope to bring to LA to create a work inspired the "I Am My Own Guardian" movement. This work would coincide with a drive across the United States with the founder of the Saudi Women 2 Drive Movement, Manal al-Sharif.


What does your organization do?

HRF’s Art in Protest Program seeks to aid artists living under authoritarian regimes or whose work is connected to their countries’ struggle for democracy and basic human rights.

Please list the organizations collaborating on this proposal.

  • Saudi Arabian Muralist and leader of the "I Am My Own Guardian" Movement, Ms. Saffaa

Briefly tell us a story that demonstrates how your organization turns inspiration into impact.

The Human Rights Foundation has been in existence for 12 years, but our Art in Protest program is barely 2 years old. It’s creation began when we met a young women from Afghanistan named Shamsia Hassani through our network. We heard stories and saw pictures of a tiny young woman who went out on the streets of Kabul with a ladder and a few paint cans, transforming the rubble and decay of war into dreamscapes with the silhouetted figure of a forlorn woman with no mouth. Shamsia would later tell me that her girl has no mouth because even if she is allowed to speak, she is not allowed to say what she really means on the streets of Afghanistan. She tells me of men stopping her in the street and beating her with hands and sticks, telling her that “art is against Islam.” But she continues her work unfettered, driven by an internal desire to create that will not be silenced by man, or religion, or act of Congress. This is the true spirit of an artist. This is the true nature of free speech; having the ability to speak your true despite threat of violence, even if everyone else is against you. It is for this reason, we created the Art in Protest program. To give a voice to people like Shamsia who have sacrificed everything for their art. We initially brought Shamsia to our program in Oslo where she did a live demonstration of her work in the public area, and even collaborated on a piece with a punk rock artist from Cuba whose still seemed aggressive compared to the demure and soft-spoken young woman.

But Shamsia shines through her art. Her work speaks for her where she cannot find the words and gives a voice to thousands of other voiceless women in Afghanistan who long for an equal footing in the world. Since that event in Oslo, we have set up multiple exhibitions for her, and one exhibition in particular drew the attention of curators at the Hammer Museum. This let to a 6 week residency with their museum and excellent exposure for her work. We hope to continue this work and to give a platform to the multitude of artists we can access through our activist network. We are simply seeking the funding to do so in a more official manner.

Which of the connect metrics will your submission impact?​

  • Attendance at cultural events
  • Attendance at public/open streets gatherings
  • Rates of volunteerism

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • City of Los Angeles

How will your project make LA the best place to connect?

Human Rights Foundation (HRF) seeks to bring artists from our Art in Protest program to Los Angeles to launch an artist residency program for dissident artists. We intend to host 2 artists per year from various places around the world who are struggling against authoritarianism and other forms of oppression, giving them a platform to tell their stories, and creating a conversation within the LA community about the state of free speech and censorship both in the US and around the world. Through our program, we have already hosted 5 different artists representing North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, China, and Afghanistan in multiple cities in the US and abroad, and have put on well-received exhibitions, but we have always had to do these events on a razor thin budget, and have not been able to give some of these artists the lasting experience they deserve. This project would be rolled out over the course of a year. We have two artists in mind for the inaugural year: Saudi muralist and leader of the “I Am My Own Guardian” Movement, Ms. Saffaa, and Syrian digital artist who has turned his trauma from years of war into intense haunting work, Tammam Azzam. Our goal is to help the LA community connect to these brave artists, to hear their stories, and leave with an appreciation for the free speech and culture of art and creativity that permeate Los Angeles, but that are often silenced by regimes around the world. In the case of Ms. Saffaa, we would like to have her create a mural in honor of Manal al-Sharif, a leader in the movement to get Saudi women the right to drive, who will be traveling across the United States meeting with trailblazing women in April.

The program will facilitate a cultural exchange and bring new beauty and voices to a city that welcomes and supports this activity.

Ideally, we would get Ms. Saffaa into LA as soon as possible. We would need to have her set up for about 6 weeks working on her project and then have a large unveiling and program to celebrate her work. LA has such a vibrant history of graffiti and murals, that the exchange of techniques and ideas in this collaboration could be amazing.

The residency of the second artist would most likely begin in October 2019 with an exhibition in November 2019.

Art is the ultimate way to connect that transcends language and culture. Bringing these artists to Los Angeles, will impact people emotionally at first, and then reach them on an intellectual level we they hear their stories and learn about the hardships they faced to express themselves in a free way, something that many take for granted in this country. Sponsoring this program would allow some of the bravest and most talented artists in the world to have the stage and support to showcase their work to an audience that can really help effect change. LA is the best place in the world to do this.

In what stage of innovation is this project?

Expand existing program (expanding and continuing ongoing successful projects)

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.

We will measure our success through several criteria:

1) Social Media - We aim for the social media following of the featured artist to gain considerably from collaboration with other artists exposure to new audiences.

2) Attendance - Over the course of a month-long exhibit, we hope for 3,000 attendees to the exhibit for each show, so around 6,000 unique engagements per year. If this is showcased in a public space, however this could increase significantly.

3) Increase in Donor Base - We hope to add new local donors to the area who will help us continue the program in perpetuity and hopefully arrange to bring 3 maybe 4 artists to the area per year. As it is now, 2 is about all we can handle.

4) Traditional Media - Every event we have held has been covered by some form of media from KCRW to local news to the LA times, and we hope to continue this engagement with a minimum of 10 articles or news segments per artist per year, around 20 unique press engagements per year.

5) Community Engagement - The true measure of success will come from the artist. If they leave the program feeling like they were able to connect with the LA community through their work and leave inspired to continue their journey and expand their impact, then that will be the ultimate success. We are ultimately doing this to promote them.