Hundreds of Artists Have Signed an Open Letter Demanding the U.S. Accept Afghan Culture Workers as Refugees

Coco Fusco and Lynne Tillman are among the signers.

Thousands of Afghans rush to the Kabul International Airport as they try to flee the Afghan capital on August 17, 2021. (Photo: Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

A group of 350 artists, filmmakers, performers, writers, and curators have signed an open letter to the U.S. government demanding that it provide aid to Afghans fleeing the country as the Taliban takes over.

The letter, penned by a group called Arts for Afghanistan, calls on the U.S. government to “do everything in its power” to help “facilitate the departure from Afghanistan of at-risk Afghans, and to include artists, filmmakers, performers, and writers in that category.”

The signatories include Coco Fusco, Teju Cole, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Lynne Tillman, Joshua Cohen, Rivka Galchen, and dozens of others.

The letter’s authors say that even before the Taliban’s takeover, culture workers took grave risks in depicting the experiences and articulating the aspirations of Afghans, often with the encouragement and direct support of the U.S. government. 

“Art is a proxy for humanity,” said political scientist Eric Gottesman, one of the letter’s authors. “As we can see unfolding in real time in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world, the voices of artists are considered dangerous because they speak truth to power.”

The letter demands that the U.S. government expedite visas for cultural workers and remove the requirement that visas be processed in a third country.

“In addition to the above demands, we call on governments of all nations to facilitate the evacuation and resettlement of Afghan refugees by offering asylum and aid,” the letter says, adding: “We insist on the protection of all who have devoted themselves to fostering free expression and civil society in Afghanistan.”

“We are desperately worried for our friends, colleagues, and peers in Afghanistan, and we do not want them to be forgotten,” filmmaker Mariam Ghani (daughter of now-deposed Afghan president Ashraf Ghani) added. “We were deeply troubled by the omission of artists and cultural workers from the State Department categories of at-risk Afghans prioritized for evacuation, despite the Taliban’s long and well-known history of targeting art, artists, and cultural heritage.”

The group says it is also in favor of removing limits on the numbers of Afghan refugees to be admitted into the U.S., and permanently stopping any deportations of Afghan refugees that are in progress.

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