Writings of the general word's body

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Artist Juliet Ezenwa denied UK Visa

Writer Adewale Maja-Pearce is concerned. His wife, the artist Juliet Ezenwa, has been denied a visa to travel to the UK for an exhibition that would have opened in Portsmouth on July 29. Maja-Pearce, a dual Nigerian/UK citizen, has written an open letter to the British High Commissioner to protest the decision. See below.

Dear Sir,

I have the good fortune – as many would see it - of being a citizen of both Nigeria and the UK. For the last twenty years or so I have chosen to live in Nigeria, although I travel to the UK from time to time for professional as well as personal reasons. Almost ten years ago I married my wife, Juliet Ezenwa, the artist and a Nigerian citizen. Shortly after our marriage she applied for, and received, a six-month visa to travel to the UK but was unable to use it for reasons which she explained in her three subsequent visa applications, the most recent being just last month. On each of these occasions she was denied a visa, apparently because it was thought that she might abscond and thereby become a burden on the state, and this despite the fact that we have our home here and have no desire to go and live in the UK, at least for the foreseeable future.

On those three previous occasions she had been invited by family, including my mother, a British citizen who lives in the UK and had undertaken to host her for the duration of her stay. However, on this last occasion she was also invited by the King’s Theatre in Portsmouth, which invited her to hold an exhibition of her paintings from 29 July to 11 August 2011, the details of which are with you, including a letter from the director. I am now at a loss as to what to do.

Neither the Germans nor the Italians shared your view about her likely intentions when they granted her visas to travel to their countries, both times in connection with her art, and yet she cannot travel to her husband’s country for a similar activity. I know perfectly well that foreigners married to British citizens do not automatically qualify for British citizenship, and I know how difficult it can be for British citizens to have their wives join them in their own country, but it seems an abrogation of a fundamental human right that the wife of a British citizen is barred from travelling to her husband’s country for a specific period of time in pursuit of her legitimate business. I feel insulted on my own account and also on hers.

Many others have written over the years about the cavalier treatment meted out to Nigerians by the British High Commission and I know exactly what they mean. The pity, of course, is that successive Nigerian governments have never stood up for their own citizens, which is why other countries treat them with the contempt they do. Indeed, I witnessed it myself some time ago when I ran into a problem in neighbouring, Togo, with only my Nigerian passport to hand but that is a matter for Nigerians to solve.

As regards my wife, by all means continue denying her what seems to me her legitimate right but I can at least voice my sense of outrage that she – and, by extension, myself also - should be treated in this despicable manner.

Yours sincerely

Adewale Maja-Pearce

BBC: Overseas artists 'poorly treated' by visa system

Related post: Atukwei Okai - no show

Paintings by Juliet Ezenwa


t said...

Beautiful paintings - no wonder Portsmouth wants to see her.
Embassy wahala is just stupid and a waste of African lives.

Nick Trench said...

Since the new regulations of 2008 many artists, writers, musicians and dancers are being refused entry into the UK, ludicrously even when exhibitions and poetry readings fro example have even been set up for them. A number of us (English PEN, the Manifesto Club, Visual Arts and Galleries Association included) supported by many in the arts in Britain are fighting this - Nick Clancarty (parliamentarian, House of Lords)

Wordsbody said...

Nick Trench,

I can only imagine how the artists visa situation would have worsened since 2008, but I know that the problem has always been there. I have been following the treatment of artists by British consulates overseas for years. There are many African artists in particular that I know have suffered this indignity when attempting to enter Britain for events: Samuel Fosso, Atukwei Okai, Nigeria's Odia Ofeimun, Souleymane Cisse etc.

The Cisse incident was particularly painful as I was part of the audience at the Barbican in August 2005 when Keith Shiri sauntered onto the stage to say the 'Yeleen' director would no longer grace the occasion. At a major retrospective of his work holding at 'the best Art Centre in Europe'!

I was in discussion with a British Consulate official here in Lagos recently and I raised this vexed matter. Oh, artists sometimes don't fill the forms right or don't understand the requirements and so on and so forth, he tried to argue. But I maintained that there are clear absurdities, over and over again, even with well-travelled artists who know visa regulations like the back of their hand. We left the matter unresolved, as I was not ready to shift my position and he could not depart from the official line. I'm glad prominent UK artists including Salman Rushdie have recently taken up the matter, to protest the ill treatment of their colleagues all over the world.

I have met Keith Shiri (organiser of Africa at the Pictures) several times in the last year on African soil, but the image of him as the lonely man that had to deliver the disappointing news of Cisse's non-appearance to us at the Barbican in London in 2005, lingers in my mind.

I will dig out the 2005 article I wrote on the Souleymane/Barbican event and post on this blog later today.

Lara Pawson said...

I'm beginning to take the view that ALL foreign artists of any sort should refuse to enter this pathetic little island. Then the British might start to realise just what a shoddy bunch we are without the input and talent of thousands of people around the world. It makes me so angry.

Adewale Maja-Pearce said...

It is shameful. For the first time, I was ashamed of my British passport.

Anonymous said...

I am not an Artist, I am a millionaire from a developing country which. I was denied UK visas 5 times over the most ridiculous reasons and it took me 4 years to get a settlement visa as an INVESTOR in the bloody UK. Tell me who the hell wants to invest in a country which has so much red tape and rejects visas over the stupidest of reasons now?? I moved to France and took my money with me - only because as a matter of principles I refuse to contribute to such a shit country now. There is nothing good about UK either - the crime rates in UK are highest in Europe, poverty levels are also highest in EU, the economy is going to hell and it's dangerous to walk around after 9 pm... driving alone is even more dangerous especially if you are a foreigner - the racist UK police may kill you my mistake and then say sorry. UK has gone mad - the country is a police state now but even with all those CCTV's everywhere they still have seriously high levels of crime and anti-social behaviour. Artists should boycott the UK and take their art elsewhere....most honest investors are also boycotting the UK now.