The Home Office recently introduced new restrictions on international artists and academics visiting the UK for talks, temporary exhibitions, concerts or artists’ residencies. Visitors now have to submit to a series of arduous and expensive proceedures to get their visa, and then more bureaucratic controls when they are in the UK. Already a series of concerts and residencies have been cancelled.
The Manifesto Club is coordinating a campaign against these regulations. The campaign is led by Manick Govinda, artists’ adviser at Artsadmin, and has won support from artists, musicians, gallery directors, academics and students. Together we call for these parochial and suspicious regulations to be reconsidered, and affirm the vital contribution made by global artists and scholars to UK cultural and intellectual life.
The petition was launched with a letter in the Observer, signed by high-profile arts figures including artist Antony Gormley, Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery, and Nicholas Hytner, director of the Royal National Theatre. See the news story of the petition launch.
The regulations, which were officially put into effect on 27 November 2008, have meant a number of artists have been refused entry. Read testimonies below, and email firstname.lastname@example.org to post a comment.
The Russian artist and academic, Dmitry Vilensky, was invited by The Showroom Gallery and Afterall Journal in London to give a seminar on his work on 17 January 2009. The gallery was forced to cancel the seminar when Vilensky’s visa application was rejected, on the grounds that he was not allowed to be paid a fee for participating in the seminar. A further appeal, with the proviso that he was not to be paid, was also rejected. Vilensky had never faced such restrictions on his many professional visits to other European countries.
The Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov’s show at the Barbican was cancelled because of the necessity for the new biometric visa. For years Sokolov was able to apply for his visa by proxy, but the new regulations meant he would have had to personally travel from Verona, where he lives, to Rome, to provide fingerprints. His replacement show, scheduled for April 2009 at the Royal Festival Hall also had to be cancelled, after he lost a year-long battle to agree a mobile visa solution.
Chinese artist Huang Xu was refused a visa to attend his exhibition at London’s October Gallery, due to open on 12 February 2009.
British artist Anne Bean was selected for the Visiting Arts and Delfina Foundation ‘artist-to-artist international scheme’, and she wishes to invite a young Kurdish-Iraqi artist to the UK. Yet the invited artist is required to travel 900 kilometres to Beirut in person to apply for her visa and ID card, and may have to stay there for up to three weeks to await the outcome of her application.
West African jazz band Les Amazones de Guinée had to pay £3500 to travel from Guinea to Freetown, Sierra Leone, to obtain fingerprints for their visas. This was a waste of time and money, however, since the band was refused entry to the UK.
End pernicious controls on artistic freedom
As professionals committed to the principles of internationalism and cultural exchange, we are dismayed by new Home Office regulations which will curb our invitations to non-EU artists and academics to visit the UK. All non-EU visitors now must apply for a visa in person and supply biometric data, electronic fingerprint scans and a digital photograph.
The Home Office's 158-page document also outlines new controls over visitors' day-to-day activity: individuals must show that they have at least £800 of savings, which have been held for at least three months prior to the date of their application; the host organisation must keep copies of the visitor's passport and their UK biometric card, a history of their contact details; and if the visitor does not turn up to their studio or place of work, or their where-abouts are unknown, the organisation is legally obliged to inform the UK Border Agency.
We believe that these restrictions discriminate against our overseas colleagues on the grounds of their nationality and financial resources and will be particularly detrimental to artists from developing countries and those with low income. Such restrictions will damage the vital contribution made by global artists and scholars to cultural, intellectual and civic life in the UK.
Iwona Blazwick, director, Whitechapel Gallery; Antony Gormley, artist; Eddie Berg, artistic director, BFI Southbank; Sandy Nairne, director, National Portrait Gallery; David Lan, the Young Vic; John E McGrath, theatre director; Malcolm Purkey, artistic director and acting CEO, Market Theatre Foundation, South Africa; Nicholas Hytner, the Royal National Theatre; Nicolas Kent, Tricycle Theatre; Brett Rogers, director, the Photographers' Gallery; David Barrie, director, the Art Fund; Jeremy Deller, artist; and 49 others
To sign the petition: http://www.petitiononline.com/MCvisit/petition.html