Freedom to Create ends with celebration



After a week of events highlighting creativity in Cairo, Freedom to Create ended with an awards ceremony and concert celebration held at the Salah Eldin Citadel.

The event was hosted by Egyptian actor Amr Waked, who is also the UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador for the Middle East and North Africa region, and Femi Oke, former CNN broadcaster and journalist.

Freedom to Create, a renowned international organization, awarded $125,000 throughout three categories: Main, Youth and Imprisoned Artists.

“The artists selected as this year’s finalists know full well the price they are paying to express their ideas, hopes and dreams for their people and their nations,” said Jehan Sadat, former first lady of Egypt.

“They have endured harsh criticisms and in some cases, have placed themselves in grave danger. Each exemplifies the power of art, music and the written word,” she added.

Under the Main category, Sadat presented Ali Mahdi Nouri the first place award for the Al-Bugaa Theater in Sudan.

“The Al-Bugaa Theater is an inspiring example of the transformative power of the arts to break down oppression and affect real change in some of the world’s darkest corners,” said Priti Devi, Freedom to Create spokesperson.

Nouri founded the theater in 1980 in Sudan, a country involved and torn by ongoing conflict, as a way to reach out to former child soldiers and offer a place for reconciliation and for dreams to come alive.

“We have about 25 performers and we travel all over and perform in camps or even in the streets. It means a lot to the people that get to experience this,” said Nouri, adding that the theater also holds workshops.

As part of the award, Nouri must donate half the prize money of $50,000 to another organization. In conjunction with the International Theater Institute, they collectively decided to donate all of the prize money towards building a medical clinic in Darfur.

First runner-up for the Main prize, presented by Sabry Abdel Aziz on behalf of Zahi Hawass, went to K-Mu Theater in the Democratic Republic of Congo, accepted on their behalf by Toto Kisaku.

The K-Mu Theater is dedicated to help children accused of sorcery and outcasted from the family and society.

“This recognition will help change things and make people aware. With our art, we can change what the state can’t and now, we have the energy and means to expand throughout my country,” said Kisaku.

Second runner up for the Main prize was accepted by Zimbabwean installation artist Owen Maseko for his work “Gukurahundi” about the atrocities in Zimbabwe, where people were killed by the country’s special forces.

“I have given the sensitive and raw issue of the ‘Gukurahundi’ massacre a face and a voice and I am prepared to take a bullet for it,” said Maseko.

First prize in the Youth category was claimed by United ACT (Anti Child Trafficking), a refugee group from the border of Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Thailand.

The young artists live along the Thai-Myanmar border, where human traffickers and smuggling brokers target the vulnerable and underprivileged population. They perform in refugee camps with scripts based on real life incidents about children from their communities who have been trafficked and abused.

“Winning the prize gives this issue global recognition and helps spread our message much further, ensuring that every vulnerable child along the border is protected from the dangers of child trafficking,” said Aung Myo, United ACT representative accepting the award.

The 2010 Imprisoned Artist prize was awarded to Kazak author and poet Aron Atabek for his literary works that highlight the lack of democracy in Kazakhstan.

Askar Aidarkhan accepted the award on behalf of his father who has been jailed since 2007 after receiving an 18-year sentence, convicted for his role in a violent riot that resulted in the death of a police officer, which is a charge he strongly disputes.

“You can imprison man, but you cannot imprison art,” said Aidarkhan.

The awards ceremony was followed by a concert that had most of the audience on their feet enjoying the music. Performers included Egyptian folk singer Donia Massoud, Namibian artist Eric Sell (Ess), Egyptian hip hop artists Arabian Knightz and Egyptian superstar Hakim.

The Freedom to Create organization was established in 2006 in an effort to harness the power of art and culture to build more creative and prosperous societies.

This year’s competition attracted more than 1,700 entries that spanned over 100 countries.

“Without peace, you can’t have freedom and without freedom, you can’t have creativity,” said Sadat.


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