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People gathering to protest against the visa ban at JFK International Airport, New York, on January 28. Photo: Judd Legum

Trump’s Visa Ban Threatens Plans of Artists and Arts Institutions

Artists are among those being denied entry to the United States after President Trump signed an executive order last Friday barring people from seven Muslim-majority countries, forcing arts institutions to cancel programming, Rachel Donadio of the New York Times reports.

When the order, which bans people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the US for ninety days and blocks entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely, went into effect on January 27, it sparked a global outcry. People were left stranded at airports around the world and several were detained at international airports in the US or forced to return to the country they departed from. Massive protests occured across the nation.

For the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the ban may disrupt exhibition programming, archaeological excavations, and research projects in the Middle East. Director Thomas P. Campbell said, “Scholarly exchanges and international collaborations are key to our ongoing work, and we are very concerned that a number of programs we have in place could be threatened, just at a time when the world needs more, not less, exchange and mutual understanding.”

A representative of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art also expressed concern about being able to continue their research and work with artists and curators from the Middle East as well as borrowing pieces for an upcoming exhibition of Iranian art, given the current restrictions in place. Many artists working in the US are also afraid to leave the country. New York–based Iranian artist Shahpour Pouyan plans to skip an exhibition opening of his work in Toronto due to fear that he won’t be allowed to return.

As a result of the ban, the Oscar ceremony, which is set to celebrate last year’s films on February 26, will take place without Asghar Farhadi, who directed the Academy Award–nominated film The Salesman (2016), and Taraneh Alidoosti, who starred in it. Marcel Mettelsiefen, director of the Oscar-nominated documentary Watani: My Homeland, will also be unable to go to the ceremony. Other artists such as Hussein Hassan, the Kurdish director of Reseba—The Dark Wind, which is scheduled to premiere in Miami in February, are withdrawing their visa applications in protest.

Farhadi said that he denounces “the unjust conditions forced upon some of my compatriots and the citizens of the other six countries trying to legally enter the United States of America and hope that the current situation will not give rise to further divide between nations.”

Several artists who were awarded residencies and fellowships in the US will be unable to complete them. Philip Himberg, director of the Sundance Institute Theater Program, said that the ban could shut down a workshop exchange between countries from the Middle East and North Africa. Since it launched in 2012, more than sixty people from Arab countries have participated.

Jonathan Ginsburg, an immigration lawyer in Virginia who specializes in securing visas for artists, said that the polarizing order is up for interpretation. “The flip side is that we may not appreciate just how broadly worded these things are until someone decides to interpret them more aggressively.” Until then, cultural institutions may have to make contingency plans for any upcoming programs involving loans and collaborations with Middle Eastern countries.

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