Deeyah Khan to be appointed UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador

17 November 2016


Award-winning film director and activist Deeyah Khan will be appointed UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassador on artistic freedom on 21 November 2016 by UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova at the organisation’s headquarters in Paris.

Welcoming the appointment, Freemuse Executive Director Ole Reitov said:

We have worked with Deeyah for many years and jointly addressed the importance of defending freedom of artistic expression at several international platforms. At an early stage in her career as a singer, Deeyah experienced harassment, racism and violent threats, so people listen when she talks, and she will no doubt be able to address several important issues through this platform.

A long-time activist for artists and artistic freedom, Deeyah has had a long history with Freemuse, including a project in 2010 when she, along with Reitov, co-produced the critically acclaimed album ‘Listen to the Banned’, featuring artists from Asia, Africa and the Middle East who have been persecuted, censored or imprisoned for their art and artistic expression.

A history of threats and intimidation
Deeyah, born and raised in Oslo, Norway, to Muslim immigrant parents, immersed herself in music at an early age, studying the North Indian/Pakistani classical voice tradition of Khayal and being one of the very few female students of maestro Ustad Bade Fateh Ali Khan.

However, because Deeyah comes from a Muslim family, is a woman and chose music as a profession, Deeyah was a target of criticism and suffered intimidation and physical threats, including an attack during a performance and a failed abduction attempt. These threats caused Deeyah to leave Norway for the UK in 1995 where, unfortunately, she suffered the same treatment, causing her, once again, to pack her bags and leave for the United States ten years later.

Award-winning artist
Deeyah has dedicated her life and work promoting artistic freedom, freedom of expression and human rights through a variety of self-started initiatives and platforms, including her 2012 debut film ‘Banaz: A Love Story’, a documentary chronicling the life and death of Banaz Mahmoud, a young British Kurdish woman who was the victim of an honour killing by her family in 2006. Deeyah won a Peabody Award and the 2013 Emmy Award for Best International Film for the documentary.

Additionally, in 2012, Deeyah won the Ossietsky Prize by Norwegian PEN for outstanding achievements for freedom of expression, and in 2015, she won the prestigious University of Oslo Human Rights Award.

Deeyah creates many of her projects through her production company Fuuse, including the World Woman festival in Oslo and ‘sister-hood’ an online magazine and series of live events to spotlight the voices of women of Muslim heritage.

For more on Deeyah’s appointment on 21 November 2016, read UNESCO’s press release here: Discussing artistic freedom with new UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Deeyah Khan

To learn more about Deeyah, watch the following interviews with her conducted by Freemuse:

Learn more about the ‘Listen to the Banned’ album here

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