Freedom to Create Brings the Power of Expression to Muzzled Societies

Art made under oppressive regimes hits a gallery in New York this week just as the 2011 competition kicks off–with judges including Daryl Hannah, Salmon Rushdie, and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

acid attack victim


Art can change the world. Just ask the artists who have submitted works to Freedom to Create, an arts and culture foundation that leverages the power of art to address injustice in places where there is no freedom to express it otherwise. This Thursday, March 24, the organization is bringing an exhibition of some of the top selections from the 2010 Freedom to Create Prize–an annual competition for artists who address social injustice–to New York City.

“Most countries we work in are places where the
political regime does not allow people the freedom of expression. Art has allowed them
to talk about what’s going on. It’s a great way to build awareness about
what’s going on in a country,” explains Priti Devi, VP of Freedom to Create.

Prize winners receive $125,000 to further what they are doing. The 2010 winner founded a Sudanese theater group that stages mobile
performances to bring a message for peace and reconciliation to the country’s conflict zones–and then used the prize money to build a community center containing a creative arts rehab center intended to help residents build up the courage to go back to their ravaged communities. Another winner–an Iranian filmmaker–used his money to help other Iranians learn filmmaking skills so they can create greater awareness of political suppression.

“We don’t believe in pure philanthropy. We want beneficiaries to manage their own prosperity going forward,” says Devi.

The entries on display over the next month at Ana Tzarev Gallery in NYC cover a range of topics, from acid attacks in Bangladesh (pictured above) to public massacres in Zimbabwe. And this Thursday, Freedom to Create launches a conversation series at the gallery, starting with a talk about female entrepreneurship in developing countries. Panelists include Mary Ellen Iskenderian, the CEO of Women’s World Banking, and Lauren Bush, the founder of FEED, which sells bags and gives the proceeds to feed children in developing countries (“It’s breaking down the huge issue of world hunger into a consumer product,” Bush tells Fast Company).


Freedom to Create’s 2011 prize competition also kicks off this week. Judges include Daryl Hannah, Salman Rushdie, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Check out Freedom to Create‘s website for more details.

Follow Fast Company on Twitter. Ariel Schwartz can be reached by email.


About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more