International News Digest


Artist Youssef Abdelke has been released by Syrian authorities, after being held for over two months, reports Gareth Harris in the Art Newspaper. Abdelke, who had condemned Bashar al-Assad and signed a petition started by other artists calling for the Syrian president’s ouster, had been arrested at a checkpoint in Tartous on July 18 by forces loyal to Assad. It’s not Abdelke’s first time in a Syrian jail: A former member of the nation’s Communist Party, he was imprisoned for two years in the 1970s. His work was shown in the 2011 Sharjah Biennial and the 2001 Cairo Biennial, and is included in the collection of London’s British Museum.

Last month in Egypt, Canadian filmmaker John Greyson and physician Tarek Loubani were detained, accused of committing “bloody crimes of violence” and of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. Now, the two have smuggled out an account of their life in prison. According to David D. Kirkpatrick in the New York Times, their letters show the current regime's “new willingness to subject Westerners to the same treatment that Egyptians receive,” as Kirkpatrick puts it. Greyson and Loubani wrote that they have been kept in a ten-by-thirty-two-foot cell with thirty-six others (according to the TimesRobert Mackey), where they've been “sleeping like sardines on concrete with the cockroaches; sharing a single tap of earthy Nile water.”

Prisoners don’t seem to be faring much better in Russia, where Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has also published a letter describing the “slavery-like” conditions of her detention—conditions she’s now protesting by mounting a hunger strike. In a letter translated by Bela Shayevich in n+1, Tolokonnikova wrote, “My brigade in the sewing shop works sixteen to seventeen hours a day. From 7:30 AM to 12:30 AM. At best, we get four hours of sleep a night. We have a day off once every month and a half.” She also accused prison guards of punishing prisoners by forcing them to stay in a passageway that gets dangerously cold in winter; one woman “ended up getting such bad frostbite after a day . . . that they had to amputate her fingers and one of her feet.” Tolokonnikova’s complete account can be found here.

In happier news, artist Anna Witt has won the BC21 BostonConsulting and BelvedereContemporary Art Award, which, as e-flux notes, is one of Austria’s biggest privately endowed prizes, at around $27,000. The Vienna-based Witt has had her work shown in the 2012 Berlin Biennale, and Manifesta 7, in 2008, among other exhibitions. Praising the artist’s “performative video installations that build on collaborations with individuals and groups,” the prize jury said of Witt: “Working from a tradition of politicized art, she engages with a variety of itineraries from this field but rearticulates them for the needs of a contemporary situation, as well as the needs of her own practice.” Witt’s work, along with that of prize nominees Marlene Haring, Ralo Mayer, and Christoph Meier, is on view at the 21er Haus Museum of Contemporary Art.