Setting Foot In Another Country:

Challenging Colonialism as Foreign Artist

by John Lei

As we travel following our artistic journey, we have to approach these experiences with cultural sensitivity. It is crucial to avoid perpetuating exploitative attitudes. More than ever, we have to challenge Colonialism in artist residencies. Thus, in this blog entry, we will explore important guidelines to cultivate understanding in artist residencies and promote respect for the local community. Here’s a a guide to avoid the pitfalls of colonialism in artist residencies.

Educate Yourself

Before setting foot in another country, get a better understanding of the historical and cultural context and its relationship with colonialism. Read news, watch documentaries, and engage with local resources to learn about the local heritage, traditions, and current realities. Specifically, acknowledge the impact that colonialism has had on the artist residency you are visiting.

Embrace a Collaborative Approach

Shift your mindset away from the notion of being a tourist or even a “savior” “enlightening” the local community. Instead, focus on listening and creating an environment where knowledge exchange, mutual learning, and partnerships flourish. Treat local artists and residents as equals, valuing their insights and expertise.

Respect Local Traditions and Customs

Respect for local traditions and customs is paramount. Hence, take the time to understand and adhere to local customs, etiquette, and social norms. Do not impose your own artistic vision, individual expectations or even diet. As much as we believe in our individual choices, keep in mind that food justice is directly connected to colonialism. Furthermore, never disregard local sensitivities, seek permission when necessary, and always honor the wishes and guidelines of the local community.

Engage with and Learn from Local Artists

One of the best ways to confront the challenge of colonialism in artist residencies is to actively learn from local artists. Certainly from those running artist residencies. Attend their events, workshops, and performances to familiarize yourself with their artistic practices and perspectives. Foster genuine relationships and engage in open and respectful dialogue. Learn from them, value their experiences, and acknowledge their creative contributions.

Collaborate, Don’t Appropriate

Colonialism has a long history of extracting resources and exploiting communities. You can appreciate the unique artistic expressions of the local community; however, be cautious on appropriating cultural symbols, practices, or stories for personal gain. Collaborate in a way that respects their intellectual property rights and cultural sovereignty. Be mindful of the potential impact your work may have on the community and always seek informed consent.

Give Back to the Local Community

As an artist-in-residence, find ways to give back to the local community that hosts you. Share your skills, knowledge, and resources through workshops, mentorship programs, or collaborative projects that benefit the community. Demonstrate a commitment to reciprocity and leave a positive lasting impact that uplifts the community.

Waaw Artists’ Residency. Morning meeting, April 2018: Johanna Ziemer (DE), Pap Souleye Fall (US), Catrin Kaitaro (FI/SN), Linn Henrichson (FI) and Jarmo Pikkujamsa (Waaw).


Participating in an artist residency abroad presents a unique opportunity to challenge colonialism through creative practices. By consciously avoiding colonialist attitudes, nurturing respect for the local community, and participate in collaborative partnerships, you can foster an environment of mutual learning and understanding. Most important, let your artistic practice become a tool for empathy, bridging cultures, and celebrating diverse perspectives, fostering resilient and equal artistic communities.

Published by Subverting Mobility

Navigating Artist Residencies. Subverting Mobility is a source to understand the experience of artist in the ecosystem of artist residencies.

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