By the 18th July we may find out on what grounds the Algerian artist Zinedinne Bessaï was refused entry to the UK to attend the launch of a group show at Cornerhouse Manchester.
This is not as a result of my earlier blog post on the subject, but rather the fact that crossbench peer the Earl of Clancarty has today submitted a written question in the House of Lords.
He also asks about dancers Ismael Ludman, Maria Mondino, writer Patrick Mudekereza, and poet Alex Galper all of whom have been shut out of the country in recent weeks.
Galper, who once made what must have been a risky escape from Russia to the US, had much less luck with immigration at Luton airport. All he wanted was to attend a poetry festival.
Luton also happens to be where Russian artist Slava Mogutin was held over night in jail and then deported, even as his American partner/collaborator Brian Kenny waltzed into the UK.
The list goes on: Alex Soth, Femi Kuti, Kristin Ostling, Grigory Sokolov, Abbas Kiarostami, and a little known rap act called the Wu-Tang Clan have also faced suspicion and obstruction.
But it would be quite wrong to put all the blame on UK border officials who may or may not be anything like the hilarious Ian Foot from BBC comedy Come Fly With Me.
More of the problem lies with a new points-based visa system. Non-EU artists are classified as temporary workers, but a 15-strong West African jazz band, say, would hardly make a killing.
In fact, Les Amazones de Guinée paid £3,500 to apply for visas and were still denied. While executives in multinationals can afford to expedite such bureaucracy and jet in and out at will.
And what do they bring to the cultural life of the British Isles? Not jazz, that’s for sure.
Click here to read a letter in the Telegraph co-signed by more than 100 leading cultural figures, or here to read about this dubious law in more detail (Kamila Shamsie in the Guardian). The above YouTube clip was actually filmed at Glasgow airport!
Bloody immigrants, coming over here and taking part in contemporary art group shows about the geopolitical relationship between Algeria, France and the UK!
As if to highlight the inequalities of that relationship, graphic artist Zineddine Bessaï was this month refused a visa to attend the launch of his own show at Cornerhouse.
The Manchester gallery supported two applications: one for Bessaï (young, single, male, non-affluent) and one for Amina Menia (an older, better off family woman).
It asked for permission for a four-night stay in the city as a business visitor and both letters are, apart from names, passport numbers and DoBs, identical. I’ve seen ‘em.
But in one case the Home Office found fault with the supporting documentation and said the letter did not “describe in detail the nature of your business in the UK”.
This would all be just sad and predictable and a not uncommon problem for artists from certain parts of the world and yet another problem for the arts in this country.
And yet to my mind the opening line of the HO letter is a bit high handed: “You state you wish to visit UK company Cornerhouse for 4 days and claim to be a “graphist”.”
Refused the chance to see his work in a prestigious international show, Bessaï has been invalidated further by skeptical quote marks round his stated vocation.
I cannot imagine this letter: “You state you wish to visit UK Company Manchester United PLC for 4 seasons and claim to be a “joueur de football”.”
My personal view is, whatever legal profession, people should be allowed to travel freely between countries. But keeping out artists is just as embarrassment.
BTW – After spending more than 15 minutes waiting for their press office to pick up the phone, I concluded the Home Office were unavailable for comment.
New Cartographies: Algeria-France-UK is at Cornerhouse, Manchester until 5 June 2011. See gallery website for proof.