The 2011 Courage Awards for the Arts were presented to Simone Forti, Jean-Jacques Lebel, Meredith Monk and Yvonne Rainer by Yoko Ono Lennon, at a private ceremony at The Modern, New York City, on Sunday, 27th February 2011.

Yoko Ono Lennon said about this year’s awards:

“I am very honoured to be giving the Courage Awards of the year 2011 to such a deserving group of artists! With your courage, our world is getting brighter every day. Thank you.”

The Courage Awards for the Arts were established in 2009 by Yoko Ono Lennon to honor individuals and groups in the arts who have shown extraordinary courage with their work and interests, defying censorship, public doubt or even scorn in pursuit of their visions. The 2009 recipients were the collectors Gilbert and Lila Silverman, and composer and light installation artist La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela.

Last year’s recipients were the Guerrilla Girls, Guerrilla Girls on Tour, Guerrilla Girls Broad Band, Printed Matter Inc., and Émile Zola (accepted by PEN Freedom to Write Program).


From left to right: Corinna Durland (accepting on behalf of Meredith Monk), Jean-Jacques Lebel, Yoko Ono, Simone Forti, Yvonne Rainer

Simone Forti

Simone Forti is a dancer/choreographer/writer. In 1955 she began dancing with Anna Halprin who was doing pioneering work in dance improvisation in the San Francisco Bay Area. After four years of apprenticeship with Halprin, Simone moved to New York City. There she studied composition at the Merce Cunningham Studio with musicologist/dance educator Robert Dunn who was introducing dancers to the work of John Cage. Forti went on to be a pivotal figure in the Judson Dance Theater community. Over the years her work has evolved from her early Dance Constructions, through her animal movement studies and News Animations, an improvisational dance narrative form wherein movement and language spontaneously weave together.

Forti’s Handbook in Motion: an ongoing personal discourse and its manifestations in dance was published in 1974 by The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Her book, Oh, Tongue, published in 2003 by Beyond Baroque Books, is a varied collection of writings including experimental essays, transcripts of News Animation improvisations, an imaginary political/historical conversation with her father, poetry, articles about dance, a postscript by the poet Jackson Mac Low and an afterword by its editor, Fred Dewey.

Jean-Jacques Lebel

Jean-Jacques Lebel

Born in Paris, in 1936, Jean-Jacques Lebel studied at the Accademia Delle Arti, in Florence, and moved in the direction of Neo Dada. In 1960, shocked by the widespread use of torture by the French army against Algerian freedom fighters, he invited five fellow artists to join him in painting the 4-by-5-meter Grand Tableau Antifasciste Collectif, exhibited in 1961 at the Milano Anti Procès III exhibition. The work was seized by the Italian authorities and held for twenty-four years.

He created the first European Happening (The Burial of Tinguely’s Chose, 1960, in Venice). Since then, he has produced more than eighty Happenings. He took an active part within Mouvement du 22 Mars, in the May 68 social and cultural upheaval and later, within the Noir et Rouge anarchist group. Starting in May of 1964, he conceived and organized the Festival de la Libre Expression at the American Center in Paris, an international exchange of experimental arts which later evolved into Polyphonix, a nomadic international festival and laboratory of Direct Poetry. In 1966, he published his book Le happening, Les Lettres Nouvelles.

Lebel’s first major retrospective exhibition, sponsored by Mazzotta Foundation, began at the Museum Moderner Kunst Vienna in 1998 and continued at a number of venues including Museum of Modern Art, Budapest; Hamburg Kunsthaus; Fondazione Mudima, Milan; and the Haus am Waldsee in Berlin. His work has been included in many international exhibitions, such as Ubi Fluxus Ibi Motus (Venice Biennale), Off Limits (Paris), and Out of Actions (Los Angeles…) among others. Lebel has curated a number of international art shows, such as Anti-Procès 1, 2 and 3 (Paris, Venice and Milan, 1960 and 1961), and Antonin Artaud (Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf, 2005). He has just completed a permutating digital film, Les avatars de Venus, which premiered at the Centre Pompidou Paris and traveled to ZKM in Karlsruhe.

Corinna Durland (accepting on behalf of Meredith Monk)

Meredith Monk

Meredith Monk is a composer, singer, choreographer, filmmaker, and creator of new opera and music theater works. During a career spanning five decades, she has been acclaimed by audiences and critics as a major creative force in the performing arts and a pioneer in what is now called “extended vocal technique”. In 1968, Ms. Monk founded The House, a company dedicated to an interdisciplinary approach to performance. In 1978, she formed Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble to further expand her musical textures and forms. In addition to her groundbreaking vocal and music theater pieces (which include Dolmen Music, Book of Days, ATLAS, mercy and impermanence), she has created vital new repertoire for orchestra, chamber ensembles, and solo instruments. Her music has also appeared in motion pictures by Jean-Luc Godard and the Coen Brothers, among others. Celebrated internationally, her work has been presented by Lincoln Center Festival, Houston Grand Opera, London’s Barbican Centre, and at major venues in countries from Brazil to Syria.

Meredith Monk’s numerous honors include a MacArthur “Genius” Award, two Guggenheim Fellowships and induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. With a discography featuring more than a dozen recordings mostly on ECM Records, her CD impermanence was nominated for a 2008 Grammy Award. In 2005 her 40th year of performing and creating new music was celebrated by a four-hour marathon at Zankel Hall. Another marathon, Meredith Monk Music @ the Whitney, was presented at the Whitney Museum in 2009, followed by the site-specific Ascension Variations at the Guggenheim Museum, featuring over 120 performers. Monk’s latest music theater work, Songs of Ascension, was performed at BAM’s Next Wave Festival in October 2009 and won the Herald Angel Award at the 2010 Edinburgh International Festival. In March 2010, her newest commission, WEAVE for Two Voices, Chamber Orchestra and Chorus, had its world premiere with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, followed by an April 2010 West Coast premiere with the Los Angeles Master Chorale at Disney Hall. In June 2010, Monk premiered Education of the Girlchild Revisited in Paris. In January 2011 she was named one of NPR’s 50 Great Voices.

Yvonne Rainer

Yvonne Rainer, co-founding member of the Judson Dance Theater, made a transition to filmmaking following a fifteen-year career as a choreographer/dancer (1960-1975). After making seven experimental feature films – “Lives of Performers” (1972), “Privilege” (1990), “MURDER and murder” (1996), among others – she returned to dance in 2000 via a commission from the Baryshnikov Dance Foundation for the White Oak Dance Project. Her most recent dances are “AG Indexical, with a little help from H.M.”, a re-vision of Balanchine’s “Agon”, “RoS Indexical”, a re-vision of Nijinsky’s “Rite of Spring” and a Performa07 commission, “Spiraling Down”, a meditation on soccer, aging, and war, and “Assisted Living: Good Sports 2.” Her dances and films have been shown world wide. A memoir — “Feelings Are Facts: a Life” — was published by MIT Press in 2006. Rainer has received numerous awards and fellowships, including two Guggenheims, two Rockefellers, a Wexner, and a MacArthur.