Around four months ago, a community mural was unveiled in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City by two New York-based street artists, Gilf! And Lmnopi. The mural is a simple profile picture of a young Black man, staring at no one in particular, with only the words “Demand Justice” carved out of the white lines intended to depict prison bars. While I have not seen the image in person, I frequently think about it and all that it represents.
This past year, an article by Jennifer Gonnerman of The New Yorker, revealed the tragic details of the death of Kalief Browder, the young man depicted in the mural. In 2010, at age 16, Browder was accused of stealing a backpack while walking home in the Bronx one evening. Though there was no evidence against him and while he vehemently denied the theft, Kalief Browder was thrown into Riker’s Island Correctional Facility for several years, without ever having been formally convicted of the crime. His family was unable to make the $10,000 bail and for years, Kalief Browder stayed there, having attempted suicide numerous times and having experienced several violent interactions between both his peers and prison guards before he was set free in 2013. Although his case garnered celebrity attention, including Jay-Z and Rosie O’Donnell, and an anonymous donor helped pay for his studies at Bronx Community College, the horrific psychological effects of his three years experience, two of which were in solitary confinement, were far too great. In 2015, Kalief Browder, tragically committed suicide at the age of 22.
I bring up Kalief Browder’s story because as the Executive Director and Founder of Art and Resistance Through Education (ARTE), we frequently engage young people around global human rights violations through the arts. Yet, what happens when the most heinous of human rights violations, like that experienced by Kalief Browder, emerge out of your own backyard? While we focus on a wide range of issues, from immigrant rights and women’s rights to children’s rights, we should also understand the great importance of focusing on the issues that affect young people in the United States directly, which includes the rights of children in the mass incarceration system. The United States is the only country in the world, besides South Sudan and Somalia, that has not yet ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the world’s foremost international instrument exclusively dedicated to protecting the rights of individuals 18 years and younger. Furthermore, the United States is one of the few countries in the world that permit the prosecution of children as adults, and according to the Equal Justice Initiative, “children as young as 13 years old have been tried as adults and sentenced to die in prison, typically without any consideration of their age or circumstances of the offense.”
Understanding these human rights violations, and in our work with young people at ARTE, we have come to recognize a few patterns in our projects across New York City. Firstly, quite simply, young people are interested in the lives of other young people. In my time with ARTE and as an educator in general, we have found that the young people we work with are interested in exploring human rights violations that directly impact the lives of other young people, from human trafficking to child slavery. My speculation is that when young people learn about the human rights abuses experienced by those their same age or younger, they feel more compelled to create awareness and take action. When I see examples of this, I am constantly inspired by their strong sense of empathy and humanity, having created pieces of art to bring attention to the exploitation of people they will never meet, in countries they may have never visited.
Secondly, I think many of the young people in our programs, while interested in what is happening on a global scale, feel most compelled to address human rights abuses happening on the local level. This past year, students in three of our programs were interested in focusing on racial discrimination and two focused on both addressing racial discrimination, and upholding immigrant rights in their own communities. One example of this was our work at a school in Elmhurst, Queens, where many of the students were recent immigrants from Latin America. At the school, students painted a mural that included birds, escaping prison-like bars, moving towards a bright, vibrant sun and the Statue of Liberty. The birds, the students decided, would represent immigrants, moving towards a more just existence within the United States. For students, the mural was a representation of the amalgamation of their lived experiences. As we painted the mural, students shared their own personal stories of migration, the sacrifices of their parents, and their own dreams for the future in their country. (For more information on this particular project, please visit our post here on Amnesty International USA’s Human Rights Now blog).
ARTE’s intention for this upcoming year is to continue our commitment to upholding and creating awareness around the rights of children throughout our programs. While students ultimately decide what human rights issue they would like their public arts pieces to focus on, we seek to further educate and empower them on issues of mass incarceration, racial discrimination, and juvenile justice within the United States.
We understand that Kalief Browder was not an isolated instance and there are many other young people throughout both New York City and the United States, facing similar dire situations. Yet, we believe not only in the power of creating awareness through the mechanism of art, but in organizing communities to take action in creative ways as well. Kalief Browder has passed away. His life was cut tragically short and the last few years of his life were filled with abuses so heinous we will never begin to know the full extent of them. We believe that the best way we can honor his memory is to never forget him and do everything possible to ensure that no other young person will ever have to experience what he did, ever again. While we are an emerging organization, and have much to learn in this growing field, we are firmly committed to supporting young people by not only educating them about human rights, but helping them uphold their own rights and commit themselves to upholding the rights of others.
Kalief, you are not forgotten.
El proyecto de Arte Desarrollo Humano nació del taller de sobrevivientes de violencia que impartí en Monterrey durante 8 años en ANSPAC -DIF de Monterrey usando arte en 2005. Otros temas de Desarrollo Humano fueron enseñados, usando también el arte en la Casa Hogar El Refugio en Monterrey NL, México. Organizamos la primer exposición de 30 autorretratos de niñas de 13 a 17 anos en 2005.
En 2007 mi hijo Tin Dirdamal realizo el documental De Nadie (2005) sobre las injusticias a los migrantes sudamericanos en su viaje rumbo a Estados Unidos. Este documental ganó más de 25 premios internacionales, Premio de la Audiencia de Sundance 2006 y el Ariel Mexicano 2006.
Aquí empezamos el proyecto Arte para cambio social que incluyo la proyección de De Nadie, exposiciones de arte con temas Migrantes y material informativo sobre Migración a Estados Unidos.
En 2008 en Marzo había 180 muertes en Monterrey causados por la violencia organizada. Desgraciadamente vendrían cifras mucho más alarmantes en el futuro. Se nos ocurrió organizar Grabados por la Paz México de 2008 a 2014. Artistas de 27 países envían cientos de grabados para este proyecto. Del grupo de grabadores que envían a Grabados por la Paz México invitamos a artistas que usan su arte para el cambio social a exponer en Monterrey. A continuación tenemos los proyectos en que hemos trabajado.
Arte/Desarrollo Humano: http://art-humandevelopment.blogspot.com
La exposición más importante aquí es María reina de la Paz , Arte Inter Religioso que organizamos desde 20010 en centro Cultural Loyola de Monterrey. Este año tenemos la participación de 16 de 26 obras que serán donadas al Hospital Universitario.
Grabados por la Paz/Prints for Peace México and International Printmaking Collective Monterrey: http://www.printsforpeacemexico.blogspot.com/
Expusimos la Octava muestra en Junio 2014 en Arte Ac/Tecnologico de Monterrey.
Taller Arte/Desarrollo Humano Casa Hogar el Refugio/Youth Shelter:
Las alumnas han participado en María Reyna de la paz con sus pinturas.
Proyecto Migrantes/Migrant Project: http://artforchange.blogspot.comEl proyecto incluye arte y el documental De Nadie de Tin Dirdamal. El arte que envío a convocatorias fuera de México es con el tema de Migrantes. El arte que expongo dentro de México es sobre Sobrevivientes de Violencia.
BY 233 (RAMON BLANCO-BARRERA), PHD CANDIDATE AND PROFESSOR IN TRAINING,
FACULTY OF FINE ARTS, UNIVERSITY OF SEVILLE, SPAIN
My ID name is Ramon Blanco-Barrera, but my Visual Artist name is a number: ‘233’. I use this number in reference to the ‘identity game’ of our overpopulated world system. My work sends social and political messages in order to make people reflect about their communities, both local and universal, constantly bringing up human rights concepts and values.
This article speaks about an artwork made during my experience as a Visiting Artist and Researcher in Residence at UC Berkeley during the Fall of 2016 as part of my PhD Program.
Some of my research interests are Human Rights Violations, Social Change Through Art Practice, Digital Culture And Education and Political Art For Innovation And Improving. I can identify four main bodies on my work: Art, Society, Education and Technology. My focus is around how the use of Arts can change our Society through Education, taking the New Technologies of Communication as a relevant tool to improve. Teaching through Art as an alternative pathway of knowledge (like Science or Philosophy) in any area. Creativity and Emotions to Learn, beyond Beliefs or Testable Evidences. And finally, I am working within the frame of Technology, as we live nowadays in the context of Digital Culture. The title of my dissertation project is Factors and Elements of Social Change in Digital Art Practices - Ways to Integrate University Arts Education and Everyday Life.
Within this context I based and designed a collaborative art practice workshopfor students and an exhibition open to the public at the Department of Art Practice – UC Berkeley. Production and use of social and political messages in order to make people reflect about the issues surrounding their own communities were discussed collectively. Some of the artworks presented were the following:
1) Sahara Libre Flag [Image Nr. 01]. 2011. Installation / Public Monument. Autochthonous stones and sand, cement and paintings. 8 x 4 x 0,5 meters. ‘Dajhla’ Saharawi Refugee Camp, Tindouf (Algeria). This is a project made to raise awareness internationally, claiming for the right to Saharawi people for their land. More info here: https://www.facebook.com/saharalibreflag
2) INTEGRAÇÃO [Image Nr. 02]. 2014. Installation. LED lights, metallic cloth and wire. 2 x 12 x 0’02 meters. Favela Mangueira, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). This work is conceived as a special event for integration through an artistic project carried out in the Community (Favela) of Mangueira, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) in December 2014 and open to all who wished to participate. More info here: https://www.facebook.com/integracao.mangueira
3) THE UNIVERSAL GAME. One flag to connect us all [Image Nr. 03]. 2015. Installation. Vinyl canvas and metallic structure. 2’3 x 4’5 meters. Ottawa (Canada). This is an outreach art project from the Human Rights Research and Education Centre at the University of Ottawa to mark the International Human Rights Day – December 10 – through a message of union, diversity and rich global exchange and inclusivity.
The workshop ended up developing an art project with students involved from the last year of Undergraduate Program in Studio Art [Image Nr. 04]. This is a poster about what I call ‘Democratic Art’, trying to point out a reflection about our artistic system, which is still very much anchored in old classic formulas of survival, but is also evolving fleetingly towards new forms of manifestation and life, perhaps more collaborative and equal [Image Nr. 05].
The result of this process can be used as a reference framework for other artists internationally and it was exposed afterwards during the exhibition open to the public [Image Nr. 06]. However, something to take into consideration is that the day when I gave the workshop and we finished this artwork, was the same day in which Donald Trump was elected President of United States of America, November 8 of 2016. Definitely a very controversial fact that could have affected to the piece and that represents a paradox about if we are taking the right pathway to walk through.
Finally, this experience was absolutely productive for me to keep working on this concepts, and very inspiring for my art thinking and practice that for sure will bring me new several ideas. In conclusion, I would like to add that we need to recover the vision of the real power of art, what I can call a pure art, a democratic art, an art for society. And this is the challenge we should take nowadays somehow, into worldwide citizens and not just making art for selling or improving ourselves only as individuals. Because of course, art can change the world.
Human Rights Art Exhibition
Examining the intersection of art, human rights, social justice and environmental issues