On January 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that included the following provisions regarding entry to the United States: an indefinite ban on all incoming Syrian refugees, a 120-day ban on all refugee admissions, and a 90-day travel ban applying to citizens from the seven Muslim-majority countries of Libya, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
While the legality of the executive order is currently in limbo after the Justice Department filed an appeal on Saturday on a federal judge’s order to block the ban, it is still worth examining the effects of such a ban on artistic freedom and creative expression.
Institutionalized discrimination based on nationality means that artists must take on greater responsibility in their work and focus on aligning themselves with a more vocal and vulnerable style of activism. This becomes especially important in the face of a media that has been tainted by ‘alternative facts.’
Sentiments of grief and confusion must, above all, be transformed into action. This point was articulated well by revolutionary artist Dread Scott, who remarked: “The more important question is not what Trump will do, but will we do.”
Jen Catron of the performance artist duo Jen and Paul shared a similar sentiment, saying, “We mourn, and then we take action.”
Creating art alone will not suffice — we must aim for mobilization and solidarity in our efforts to resist and counteract the cowardice produced by such discriminatory bans.
Trump’s immigration order represents a threat to artistic diversity and cultural exchange. The limitation on the free flow of art and ideas is detrimental to institutions that rely on collaboration.
Notably, the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts and the Metropolitan Museum of Art both recently released statements expressing concern for their upcoming exhibitions.
Philip Himberg of the Sundance Institute Theater Program professed similar sentiments of loss regarding Sundance’s annual workshop exchange, which has relied on contribution from 60 Arabic-speaking teachers and professionals for four years.
Further impeded are the multitude of Academy Award nominees that hail from the seven affected countries. This list includes Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian director of Best Foreign Language Film nominee The Salesman; Hala Kamil, a Syrian actress who appears in the nominee for Best Short Subject Documentary Watani: My Homeland; and Khaled Khateeb, Syrian cinematographer of documentary The White Helmets, which follows first responders in the Syrian civil war.
Farhadi has already announced his intent to boycott the Academy Awards ceremony, even if the difficulties surrounding his travel to the US can be resolved.
The consequences of Trump’s executive ban for the arts are stark. Any kind of discrimination that limits the flow of individuals, and consequently their ideas, is unfavourable to society as a whole.
Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist that boldly embraces his complementary role as an activist, is famously known for saying, “My favourite word? It’s ‘act.’”
We must go further and assert that creative actions need to be inclusive of as wide an audience as possible. By avoiding exclusivity, artists can help deepen the discussion on discrimination and instill hope on a larger scale. Love trumps hate, and so does art.