A Sri Lankan journalist, poet, and writer under threat of persecution and violence in her home country will continue her passionate work in a safer environment at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO).
Sharmila Seyyid, an Artist Protection Fund Fellow, has received international recognition for her dedication to addressing the socioeconomic vulnerability of women in Sri Lankan society through writing and activism. Her works center on the multiple burdens that Tamil-speaking Muslim women in Sri Lanka face, especially in the wake of the long Sri Lankan civil war. She also established Mantra Life, an organization seeking to help Sri Lankan women become financially independent.
Her first novel Ummath: A Novel of Community and Conflict, dissects the complex realities of extremism, nationalism, chauvinism, fundamentalism, and sexism that governed Sri Lanka during and after the war. Sections of Ummath question “purdah,” the seclusion of women from public observation by covering their faces and bodies. Such views have sparked controversy, leading to threats and online persecution so severe that her family believed that she had been killed.
Seyyid was in and out of exile in countries like India, Thailand, and Turkey while she applied for residencies. She was awarded a prestigious IIE-Artist Protection Fund Fellowship (IIE-APF) and placed in residence with UNO’s Leonard and Shirley Goldstein Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and UNO’s Sam and Frances Fried Holocaust and Genocide Academy. UNO’s International Programs office assisted in supporting Sharmila and her children as they settled in Omaha.
“The Artist Protection Fund supports threatened artists across métier and practice,” says Alison Russo, IIE-APF Senior Director. “We worked very closely with the dedicated team at the Goldstein Center and Fried Academy to successfully bring Sharmila—our first APF Fellow in residence at UNO—to Omaha and create an environment where her literary arts practice and family can thrive.”
Here at UNO, Seyyid will be working with the department of English and the Women and Gender Studies program while continuing her writing and international social justice work. “I am very grateful to be here at UNO, as this university will provide me with many networking and research experiences that will allow me to pursue my dream,” Seyyid said.
Curtis Hutt, Ph.D., and Mark Celinscak, Ph.D., Executive Directors of the GCHR and Fried Academy respectively, are excited to host Seyyid.
According to Hutt, this continues the legacy of Shirley Goldstein who worked tirelessly to help threatened people to escape persecution in the Soviet Union.” Celinscak noted, “With its roots in assisting scholars and artists under threat by Nazi Germany, the Sam and Frances Fried Holocaust and Genocide Academy is proud to collaborate with the IIE-Artist Protection Fund. “It is our honor to support Sharmila Seyyid. Her courage and tireless efforts in defense of the rights of women and children is extraordinary.”
Hutt is grateful for this initial collaboration with IIE-APF. “It is our goal to establish a long-term partnership between UNO and IIE-APF. We look forward to bringing IIE artists and scholars to UNO into the distant future.”
About the Institute of International Education
The IIE-Artist Protection Fund (IIE-APF) is a program at the Institute of International Education that collaborates with international art organizations and institutions to provide fellowship grants to threatened artists. IIE-APF places these artists at host institutions in safe countries where they can continue their work and plan for their futures. They receive urgent applications from artists around the world, with preference given to artists who are facing or recently fled from immediate, severe, and targeted threats to their lives and/or artistic practice in their home countries or counties of residence; and who demonstrate accomplishment and promise in their artistic practice.
The Institute of International Education (IIE) was founded in 1919 with its mission to help people and organizations leverage the power of international education to thrive in today’s interconnected world through advancing scholarship, building economies, and promoting access to opportunity. The IIE has provided shelter to scholars and artists at risk since the 1930s and has administered the U.S. Department’s Fulbright Program since 1946.
About the University of Nebraska at Omaha
Located in one of America’s best cities to live, work and learn, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s premier metropolitan university. With more than 15,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs of study, UNO is recognized nationally for its online education, graduate education, military friendliness and community engagement efforts. Founded in 1908, UNO has served learners of all backgrounds for more than 100 years and is dedicated to another century of excellence both in the classroom and in the community.