We would not want you to paint the wrong picture , but...
THE British government likes to pretend that together with its American senior partner it has brought good to Iraq, and Tony Blair has certainly done well out of the war he tricked us into. A mixed bunch of Iraqi and Western businessmen were gathered in a London hotel recently to assure each other that things are getting back to "normal", and encourage Iraqi graduates to come home.
An art exhibition is due to open in Manchester on Friday, April 16, entitled Contemporary Art Iraq. The guest list for the exhibition in the Cornerhouse Art Gallery was to include the Iraqi ambassador, the Foreign Secretary David Miliband MP and five of Iraq's most promising artists flown over for the occasion.
Alas, it seems the UK Border Agency's computer says NO.
The five artists could provide no valid bank statements. Proof of financial stability and a bank account in the applicant's home country is a bureaucratic requirement for British visa authorities. But its a very tall order in a bombed and occupied country with no banking infrastructure.
Reporting this in the Independent on Saturday, the paper's art correspondent Arifa Akbar says the exhibition, showcasing works by 19 artists from Iraq who have created pieces through the both wars, Saddam Hussein's downfall, the occupation and subsequent upheavals, will still open on Friday, April 16, "but organisers are bitter about the absence of the artists – and the taxpayers' money wasted on the effort to bring them here".
"Return flights and hotels had been booked and the artists flew to Beirut in an effort to make their passage to obtaining a visa easier. The cost of remaining in Lebanon while they tried to sort out visas added to the £10,000 bill.
"For campaigners opposed to the visa restrictions for artists entering Britain on a temporary basis, this is the latest example of a pointlessly bureaucratic and obstructive 'points system'. A host of headlining artists at the annual WOMAD world music festival have been prevented from performing in past years as well as poets at the Ledbury Poetry Festival".
A petition against Home Office restrictions on invited non-EU artists was recently submitted to Downing Street by the Manifesto Group. Signatories include Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery, Nicholas Hytner, director of the National Theatre, the writer Maureen Duffy and Helena Kennedy QC. Manick Govinda, Manifesto Club campaigns director, said the ban on the artists was an example of the "ludicrously bureaucratic and draconian visa restrictions".
We might also note that the ban on Iraqi artists follows refusal of visas to a Palestinian under-19 football team who had been due to train at Chester, and more recently to three Palestinian farmers who were invited to the Fair Trade exhibition. George Brown had previously said he favoured including Palestinians in the Fair Trade project, and the government has said there may be visas for the farmers in future - but not for the exhibition to which they had been invited.
The artists ban seems yet another case of either hypocrisy, bureaucracy or both making nonsense of official promises and "joined up government". The artists denied entry include Shaho Abdul Rahman, 36, a designer and painter, Azar Othman Mahmud, 22, an installation artist, Sarwar Mohamed, 37, a filmmaker, all from Sulaymaniyah; Falah Shakarchi, 45, a painter from Baghdad and Julie Adnan, 24, a photojournalist from Kirkuk.
The show was co-curated by ArtRole, a British-based arts organisation partly funded by the Arts Council and Foreign Office for the study of Iraq. Its director Adalet Garmiany said the setback could harm British-Iraqi relations. "Since 2003, Iraqis have been promised democracy but Britain and America have not managed to do what they promised. We tried to use art to rebuild some of that trust. This incident loses that trust ... The artists have been refused visas for not having bank statements; many Iraqis do not have bank accounts. It's an unstable country, usually its citizens are paid in cash," he said.
A spokesman for the Home Office could not confirm details of the case.
No entry: Talent refused a visa