Making Justice through Art – with Prof Rosemarie Buikema

The upcoming lecture by Professor Rosemarie Buikema organized by the Research Center for Gender and Sexuality of the University of Amsterdam will take place on Thursday 10 December 2015 on the fascinating subject of the definition of justice in transitioning countries.

Reflecting on the work of Professor Shoshana Felman, Professor Buikema describes how this definition has evolved from a conception encapsulated by transitional justice mechanisms such as criminal prosecutions and truth and reconciliation commissions towards the notion of absence of violence. This evolution leaves room for mediums such as art to explore their role in transitional states.



Shattering the Silence: Confronting Impunity

By Andrea Breslin

“The right to the truth – which is both an individual and collective right – is essential for victims but also for society at large.  Uncovering the truth of human rights violations of the past can help prevent human rights abuses in the future.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon


The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer’s diptych to the Act of Killing, explores the right to the truth in the face of massive human rights violations and abuses. Truth can be a form of redress in transitional justice initiatives, and its significance has been recognised in many transitional societies in different regions of the world. There have been efforts to set up at least 40 truth commissions in diverse contexts internationally. In the Look of Silence, the themes of exposing the past, of memorialisation, of seeking acknowledgement if not redress, of impunity solidified through silence, are explored through the determined and fearless quest of Adi, an individual who is in some ways representative of hundreds of thousands of families who were victims and survivors of the torture and killings which took place in Indonesia in 1965/66. The focus on an individual, his pain, his story, his family, offers a single perspective to help us make sense of an overwhelming tragedy that seems impossible for us to wrap our heads around in any meaningful way by the sheer scale of the inhumanity involved.

The focus in the Act of Killing was on the perpetrators, on the banality of evil, in some ways evocative of Hannah Arendt’s interpretation of the Nuremberg trials, while this documentary gives voice to the victims, perhaps partially in reference to the earlier documentary exposure 40 Years of Silence: An Indonesian Tragedy. Adi’s approach and demeanour is the polar opposite of what he seeks to expose. In the face of denial, personal risks, thinly veiled threats to him and his family, and even outright mockery – he remains respectful, dignified, and composed throughout. Adi is cautioned repeatedly to maintain the oppressive silence, to avoid digging into the past and ripping open wounds which have supposedly healed. Why he cannot accept the silence is not directly addressed, but it is clear that amnesia is not a reality, and forgetting is not an option. The answers that victims may seek will haunt them regardless and in this case are sought out despite any potential personal, social or political consequences. Adi’s poised attitude seems to reflect a deeply rooted knowledge that almost inevitably nothing will come out of his quest in terms of accountability. His quest as an individual is not about establishing guilt, or paving the way for transitional justice processes. Adi will continue, like tens of thousands of others, to suffer from the loss of his brother at the hands of killers who participated in the annihilation of thousands of other lives. His belief in confronting the pervading silence gives him the courage to challenge his brother’s killers, and to achieve what seems to his objective, namely that he will bring others to say what he has been saying, namely that what happened was not normal; that it was a crime.

Look of Silence

The idea of confronting seemingly weak and fragile old men with violations they committed when they were strong powerful young men often invokes pity and resistance; why bother these poor old men? What will come of it? What good does it do? Images of former dictators, ageing Nazi generals and elderly Cambodian leaders from the Khmer Rouge come to mind. Many, such as Slobodan Milosevic, never survive through their lengthy criminal trials if such a stage is even reached. Can remembering attempt in some small way to address the abuse and even seek redress for the violations committed decades before? Can breaking the silence even for a second shift the power dynamics? Perhaps the least that can be expected is for some sliver of truth and memory to be captured before it is lost with the generation at the end of its prime.

In both films, when parts of the truth are revealed through direct questioning, the complete lack of apparent remorse is terribly hard to swallow. The seeming absence of regret, of shame, of any ‘human’ response to the acts committed is incomprehensible. Audiences may find it difficult to identify with this absence. The suspicion one is left with, however, in the Look of Silence, is that an unruly mob of challenging complex emotions do indeed lurk just beneath the surface, but when the very suggestion that they should exist is raised, anger is propelled at the instigator to protect the thin veneer of sanity and stability of the individual, just as the killers admittedly drank the blood of their victims while slaughtering them in an attempt to avoid a descent into insanity. This defensive action explicitly acknowledges an awareness of the heinous nature of their crimes.

Look of Silence 3

Adi’s profession as an optometrist – providing prescription lenses to people living in remote villages and communities, helping people see more clearly – couldn’t be any more symbolic, given the ubiquitous ‘willed myopia’ portrayed throughout. At one point in the documentary he tenaciously explains to his son that the propaganda taught in his school is false, that the son’s teacher is maintaining the suffocating shroud of silence, reinforcing the same hate speech that provided the conditions which propagated mass violence half a century before. What becomes clear is that in the absence of sight, of seeing the crimes, in the absence of challenge to the authority that committed them, in the absence of vetting, of any transitional justice approaches (despite numerous attempts to establish such), the silence is simply a deafening absence of justice, and creates the space for the atrocities committed to be replicated. Denial and omission pave the way for repetition among this ‘gerontocracy of tyranny’. Joshua Oppenheimer shows us what silence looks like. A society that refuses to address human rights violations committed on a massive scale, and to open the narrative to victims, will result in a new generation of indoctrinated individuals living in ignorance and a community continuing to endure paralyzing fear.

It is typically the victors who maintain control of the dominant narrative. If the truth is not sought and established, how are other mechanisms, such as reparations, criminal accountability, vetting, and reconciliation even possible? If the truth is absent, arguably no mechanism of transitional justice can function – only a tacit amnesty and absolute impunity for all perpetrators of violence can exist. Without sustainable peace and reconciliation brought about through confronting the truth and somehow addressing it, how can a recurrence of human rights violations be avoided? Often truth commissions go hand in hand with amnesty or pardon, in order to encourage perpetrators to come forward and admit their crimes. In this documentary no such incentive is necessary, as no repercussions are expected for the admissions; no negotiations are required, no plea bargaining entered into as the perpetrators rest assured that no accountability will be sought. Perhaps the only form of redress available to the victims is the gradual eradication of silence.




For more on the “tension between remembrance and performance, the function of moving images in the execution of political violence, and nonfiction filmmaking methods that facilitate communities of survivors to respond to, recover, and redeem a history that sought to physically and symbolically annihilate them”, see Killer Images, Documentary Film, Memory, and the Performance of Violence, a book edited by Joram Ten Brink and Joshua Oppenheimer,with contributors such as Ben Anderson, Errol Morris, Harun Farocki, Rithy Phan, Avi Mograbi, Brian Winston, and Michael Chanan.

Galway Arts and Human Rights Summer School exploring the theme of “Belonging”

The Inaugural Galway International Summer School on the Arts and Human Rights will take place from 9 to 11 July 2015 at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and is co-directed by Professor Micheal O’Flaherty, Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights, and Dr Dominique Bouchard, curator at the Hunt Museum. The summer school will explore the intersections between the arts and human rights through panel discussions, exhibitions, performances, and three parallel workshops on the topics of literature and human rights, the visual arts and human rights, and music and human rights. This year, the theme of the event will be “Belonging”.

Arts HR summer school

A photography competition is organized as part of the summer school, inviting photographers from around the world to submit photography exploring the theme of “Belonging”. Up to 20 photographs will be considered to take part in an exhibition hosted during the summer school at NUI Galway alongside the1949 UNESCO photographic exhibition that will be mounted at St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church in Galway City.

The artist selection will take place on 17 June 2015. You can register and vote here. Dr. Andrea Breslin, an alumni from the Irish Centre for Human Rights – as well as a contributor to Creating Rights – presented photography work on internally displaced persons in South Sudan, where she worked with the Human Rights division of United Nations Mission in South Sudan. Her submission can be viewed here. Her “pictures depict those caught up in the current conflict in South Sudan; civilians displaced; homes burnt; buildings and belongings abandoned; children orphaned; animals fleeing; soldiers sleeping while keeping their fingers on the trigger. No one and nothing in these photos has been able to remain in the place where they belong. Home is no longer part of their reality”.


Photograph by Andrea Breslin

Artistic exploration into international legal work: a matter of evidence?

by Fiana Gantheret

The question of the way different fields come together to enrich international criminal investigations and legal work was already touched upon here on Creating Rights when looking at Eyal Weizmann’s and Susan Schuppli’s project Forensic Architecture, a research project at the crossroads of international human rights law, architecture and engineering.

See You in The Hague by Stroom Den Haag, “a multifaceted narrative about the ambitions and reality of The Hague as international city of peace and justice”, offers further reflection on the encounter between artistic practice and international criminal processes, rendered here through the projects of Susan Schuppli and Jason File.

It presented last fall Susan Schuppli’s Evidence on Trial, a project featuring a conference and a video installation, as well as the screening of a documentary, Material Witness. Through these artistic manifestations, Susan Schuppli explores the path followed by media materials when presented in various public and legal forums such as international tribunals and agencies. What impact does court’s processings have on their evidentiary capacity to produce the truth, as required from them? Susan Schuppli’s project explores “how histories are materially and computationally encoded by media and by which means the complex political realities they are embedded in are rendered visible. In short, it is an inquiry into how objects become agents of contestation between different stake- holders and truth claims“. A methodology of a forensic nature in line with the one governing Forensic Architecture.



Evidence at Trial, Stroom Den Haag – 16 November 2016                                                   Photographs by Fiana Gantheret

More recently, a duo exhibition was visible at Stroom Den Haag, entitled A Crushed Image (20 Years After Srebrenica), and presenting artwork by Jason File and Peter Koole. Peter Koole is a Dutch artist who, after having seen repeatedly the word Srebrenica on medias, decided for the first time to include it in his art work. Jason File is a contemporary visual artist, as well as a prosecutor at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. In the exhibition, Jason File presents various art works staging evidentiary documents in front of the international tribunal. As he explained himself during the finissage of the exhibition that took place in Stroom Den Haag on 12 April 2015, Jason File is interested in the ambiguity and subjectivity made possible through art, which legal work cannot offer. He uses evidence material such as autopsy drawings, hearings’ transcripts, and the day-to-day gesture of shredding confidential documents, and, by presenting them through artistic lenses, introduces ambiguity into legal work by interrogating their identities as objects.


drawing 3

A Crushed Image (20 Years After Srebrenica) – Jason File – The Earth and the Stars / Photographs by Fiana Gantheret


A Crushed Image (20 Years After Srebrenica) – Jason File – The End                                 Photograph by Fiana Gantheret

Both Jason File and Susan Schuppli’s projects raise the following question: is it possible to think as artists in a domain that isn’t artistic? In other words, what to think about what art has to say and the relevance of it for international legal processes? As Jason File puts it in Post Script – a text written in an attempt to answer the question of whether it is possible for someone in the legal profession to have a double articulation that includes the making of art – “aesthetic critique is incompatible with properly-functioning judicial systems from the internal perspective of the operations of a trial”. Rather, if critique there is, it will follow an internal pattern of rules. Jason File explains this by referring to the mandate given to international criminal proceedings to establishing facts beyond a reasonable doubt and applying a normative judgment to them. He also refers to the underlying assumption that there is an objective truth that the international criminal justice system tends to ascertain, to a degree that allows confidence in the system’s ability to do “justice”.

He therefore describes a criterion, presiding over the choices made in determining which sets of rules will define the field in question. In Justice, Uncompressed, published along with the exhibition, Jason File compares these choices to those driving digital image compression:

In its laws, rules, procedures, technology and practical resource constraints, an international criminal tribunal has its own compression algorithm. Under a tent, the physical remains of a victim excavated from a mass grave are converted into words and images on paper through the mediating influence of an investigator drafting a report. The report becomes a proxy for the real thing, the smell of the location, the dirt, the feel of a bone which itself stands in for the personal experience of the victim itself, now irretrievably lost. Much raw information and experience is removed in order to distill the facts that are relevant for the purpose of the investigation.

The question of the confrontation between the fields of justice and art was at the core of the debate that ended Susan Schuppli’s Evidence on Trial, and which took place on 16 November 2014 in The Hague Institute for Global Justice. There, Susan Schuppli’s text Entering Evidence, in which she “conceptually interrogate(s) the ways in which the post-production treatment of media materials – their copying, editing, digitalizing, and chain-of-custody handling – impacts upon their evidentiary capacity to produce the truth claims that are required for ‘the justice of law’ to answer the ‘injustices of war’”, was discussed by practitioners of international criminal justice. They made the remark, in particular, that “the research of media materials in the ICTY archives should be left strictly to legal professionals” (for a thorough account of the debate following the conference, as well as interesting thoughts on the relationship between arts, peace and justice, see Brigitte van der Sande’s post on See you in The Hague Blog).

Jason File and Susan Schuppli concur to think that there should be more opportunities to communicate between both worlds, which would each benefit from such collaboration. From the internal perspective of international criminal processes, forensic work such as the one performed by Susan Schuppli could bring a meaningful contribution by interrogating evidence material, provided that the conditions of admissibility and evaluation of evidence be respected, namely in accord with the “internal pattern of rules”. Even if Susan Schuppli’s approach has an artistic aim that is external to its object of study – international criminal operations – it can be made compatible to a judicial evaluation of the evidence from an internal point of view and therefore contribute to the judicial truth, the “objective truth”, as described by Jason File in Post-Script. On the other hand, one must distinguish between the judicial truth as produced by international tribunals and a broader artistic approach which, as in the case of Jason File’s work, takes part in a collective and socio-philosophical vision not focusing on individual criminal responsibility. In the latter case, the object of study is extracted form its context and submitted to an artistic and external understanding. In this instance, there is, in our view, no other relation between the two fields than one of mutual respect and interest.


L’art de tracer la ligne entre liberté d’expression et incitation à la haine raciale

Par Fiana Gantheret

English version available here

A la suite des évènements tragiques de janvier 2015 à Paris, un débat impliquant deux principes a resurgi : la liberté d’expression, d’une part, et la prohibition de discours appelant à la haine, de l’autre. La raison principale en est la mobilisation massive qui a suivie l’attaque de Charlie Hebdo. En effet, plus d’un million de personnes en France ont manifesté afin de proclamer « Je suis Charlie », et par là-même leur « attachement indéfectible à la liberté d’expression ». Une autre raison est qu’à la suite de la tuerie à Charlie Hedbo, qui a été suivie, entre autres, par une attaque à caractère antisémite, plus de 70 procédures ont été initiées pour apologie du terrorisme ainsi que pour incitation à la discrimination et à la haine raciale, en réaction à des propos tenus par des individus soutenant les actions des terroristes ou à tout le moins les minimisant. A cet égard, la Garde des Sceaux, Christine Taubira, a donné les instructions suivantes dans une circulaire aux parquets :

A l’heure où la France est frappée en plein cœur par le terrorisme et où les fondements même de la démocratie sont visés, le ministère public doit veiller à préserver les grands principes de la République et poursuivre son action de protection de la liberté d’expression, indissociable de la démocratie.

L’article 10 de la Convention européenne des droits de l’homme ainsi que les articles 10 et 11 de la Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen proclament les principes de liberté d’opinion et d’expression qui ne peuvent être limités que dans les cas déterminés par la loi.

Dans ces moments où la nation doit montrer son unité, les propos ou agissements répréhensibles, haineux ou méprisants, proférés ou commis en raison de l’appartenance à une religion doivent être combattus et poursuivis avec la plus grande vigueur.

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Drawing the line between the freedom of expression and the prohibition of hate speech

By Fiana Gantheret

Version française disponible ici

Following the tragic events that unfolded in January in Paris this year, a debate linking two principles have re-emerged: freedom of expression on the one hand, prohibition of hate speech on the other hand. The main reason for this is the humongous support and sense of community that arose after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo. Indeed, more than a million people in France demonstrated in order to say “I am Charlie”, and thereby, to show their “unfailing attachment to the freedom of expression”. Another reason is that in the wave of this attack and the antisemitic one that followed it,  more than 70 judicial proceedings for condoning terrorism and inciting to hate and discrimination were initiated against individuals that voiced support to the terrorists or minimised their actions. Instructions were given by the French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira to national prosecutors to investigate and initiate proceedings against those types of acts:

At a time when France is struck in the heart by terrorism and where the very foundations of democracy are under attack, the public prosecutor must maintain the main principles of the Republic and continue its efforts to protect the freedom of expression, inseparable from democracy.

 Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Articles 10 and 11 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen proclaim the principles of freedom of opinion and expression which cannot be limited outside the cases determined by law. 

In these times when the nation must display unity, reprehensible words or acts of hatred or contempt made because of religious affiliation must be fought with the utmost vigor.

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A Theatre of War – Setting the Stage for a Critical Reflection on Human Rights Violations in Armed Conflict

By Andrea Breslin and Orla Lehane

“Tread lightly for you tread on my realities”

Irish playwright Connell Morrison’s above reflection, referencing his attempt to bring his stunning interpretation of Antigone to a Palestinian theatre group, highlights some of the ethical dilemmas surrounding the reduction of the complexity of conflict situations into a narrative for theatre. His 2003 adaptation moved the conflict within the play to a contemporary Middle Eastern staging, where the character of Antigone is portrayed as a suicide bomber. Despite rave reviews in Ireland, upon bringing the play to the Ashtar Theatre group based in Ramallah, he discovered that the play did not adequately reflect the situation of those living in the very area that had inspired the piece.

This was one of a number of themes raised as part of the Theatre of War, a three day symposium at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, gathering together artists, journalists and academics to reflect on the world’s most troubling conflicts from a global, contemporary and historical perspective, through the lens of theatre. Just as combatants struggle for control in the geographical theatre of operations during war, multiple memories, voices and ideas struggle and compete to be heard and represented in this space. What role does the theatre play in offering interpretations of conflict? How can those working in theatre respect the individual perspectives, representations, and rights of those caught in conflict zones while creating work that appeals to and engages a diverse range of audiences?

As part of the symposium, the one-woman play Oh My Sweet Land, an “urgent and extraordinary play”, was brought to Ireland for the first time by London’s award-winning theatre, the Young Vic. It explores the ongoing crisis in Syria through stories from a selection of its two million refugees. The show, written and directed by Palestinian writer Amir Nizar Zuabi, and performed by Corinne Jaber, is an outstanding example of a work that deals with the pertinent issues. It weaves the stories of a number of Syrian refugees together in a mesmerising piece of drama, while emphasising the brutality of the war and the effect it has on the lives of those caught up in it: “They call it a civil war, but there is nothing civil in this. Nothing civil at all”.

The play charts one woman’s journey from Paris to Lebanon, into Syria and onto Jordan to track down a friend, Ashraf, among the innumerable Syrian refugees in each country, listening to the tragic stories of violence, chaos and loss experienced by those who have fled.   During the Theatre of War symposium, Zuabi spoke passionately of the important role that theatre plays in contributing to the complex discourses surrounding conflict, describing it as the “most humane” of the arts and the “most intimate” of encounters. It is, he believes, a way to react to the world around us. Oh My Sweet Land does just that, inspired by the stories of refugees that Jaber and Zuabi met in the camps they visited in Jordan. Having, they explain, been inspired particularly by the spirit of those they met and their ability to adapt, the play gives these individuals a voice. The audience learns something of their lives and the effect the war has had on them, the loss of their homes and possessions, the death of family members – husbands, wives, children. The cruelty of their attackers is presented. But ultimately, through individual stories that go beyond reductionist news headlines and media sound bites, those that Jaber encounters on her journey remain human. One little boy she encounters notes with sombre resignation “What happens to all will happen to us”.

Zuabi’s view regarding theatre was echoed by other speakers at the event, with many of those creating theatre in conflict zones speaking the most passionately of its power. ‘Theatre is alive!’ proclaimed Hope Azeda. Azeda works in Rwanda harnessing theatre to explore concerns related to human rights and violence that have stemmed from the genocide in the country, investigating the dichotomy between victims and perpetrators and asking whether the perpetrators of tomorrow could be the victims of yesterday. Theatre allows her to discuss these themes with young people; important, she explains, because, in accordance with an old Rwandan proverb, “you cannot straighten an old tree”.

Based in Serbia, Dijana Milosevic also emphasised the important role that theatre has played in giving a voice to those who have lived through conflict, while noting the complexity of representation. She co-founded DAH Theatre in Belgrade in 1991: inadvertently coinciding with the outbreak of war in the Balkans. Questions troubling Dijana and her colleagues at first were whether or not they had the right to make theatre when there was so much suffering going on around them, and the very existence of suffering in a war that was supposedly being fought in their name. This led the group to creating anti-war theatre and performing in the streets. While their activities generated many difficulties, the performances was also well received with many audiences. The power of theatre as a form of resistance became clear to the group.

The notion of theatre as resistance was highlighted in the Keynote Speech at the symposium, with Professor Luke Gibbons referring to the cultural sphere as the ‘counter public sphere,’ and throughout the three day event the role of theatre as a site of resistance was emphasised. The President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, counselled us in his Keynote Speech of the previous Theatre of Memory, also at the Abbey Theatre, to do justice to the complexity of context, to read events critically from any standpoint, and to avoid jeopardizing historical accuracy. Much of this discussion remains relevant to the Theatre of War, which explores conflict from individual perspectives through individual stories, while also attempting to avoid negating the multiplicity of identities in the complex conflicts involved.

Other forms of theatre have similarly attempted to interrogate and engage with the themes of violence, whether structural or individual. One example is the Theatre of the Oppressed, born in Brazil of the ideas of Augusto Boal, combining participatory techniques, aiming to critically engage the structures of power and oppression and reshape them through action.

The Theatre of the Absurd also questions depictions of rational human existence and accepted reality/status quo, exposing the inherent absurdity by portraying a world without logic or morals, avoiding conventional plot and narrative techniques. It embodies a ‘revolutionary attitude’ towards language and convention, portraying the world as an ‘incomprehensible place’ where the audience struggles to comprehend and identify completely with the events or characters involved. The recent outcry surrounding the threat to ‘freedom of expression’ regarding the Charlie Hebdo incident in Paris was described as a form of theatre of the Absurd in a recent article, neglecting as it does the structural violence meted out to many countries in the last decade, the retrogression regarding freedom of expression in many European countries, and many other points of contention.

This Theatre of War has a much broader focus, intending as it does to employ the medium of theatre to explore conflict from many different angles and perspectives. Theatre artists from Burundi, Columbia, Syria, Palestine, Rwanda, Ireland and the United Kingdom discussed the challenges of artists responding to conflict. Perhaps a quote from Martin Esslin concerning the Theatre of the Absurd is also fitting for this Theatre of War, which also resists clear-cut resolutions for urgent contemporary issues, and leaves us still questioning: “while the solutions have evaporated the riddle of our existence remains – complex, unfathomable, and paradoxical.” 

Ai Weiwei libère Alcatraz

Ai Weiwei exposé à Alcatraz, Par Marie-Pierre Poulain

La baie de San Francisco, ses péninsules, ses puissants courants marins, luisent sous le soleil de décembre. Sur le grand ferryboat blanc qui nous emmène à Alcatraz, l’île fortifiée se dessine, assez proche, coiffée d’un long bâtiment blanc ponctué d’un phare.

Des mouettes se jouent de l’air pour venir accrocher en planant des offrandes alimentaires, libres acrobates. Nous approchons du ponton, et nous regardons la silhouette de San Francisco, si proche et pourtant inaccessible, la tour Transamerica Pyramid darde sa pointe, d’autres gratte-ciel se poussent du col, la ronde Tour Coit perchée sur une colline est surplombée par les ouvrages plus récents.

Alcatraz 1JPG

Photos par Marie-Pierre Poulain

Alcatraz 2

Lieu idéal pour parler de liberté, avec sa colonie d’oiseaux, l’immense océan qui roule autour, et ce relatif éloignement du monde dans une petite île. Comment rompre l’isolement, comment faire circuler l’esprit dans ce lieu hautement touristique où les visiteurs venus du monde entier viennent imaginer ce que c’est que de vivre dans une cellule grillagée, sans espoir de sortie. Alcatraz a créé son mythe renversé, l’obsession de l’évasion, sujet de livres et de films. Une autre île, plus grande, plus loin de la côte, une île de relégués devenue l’île des forçats de l’apartheid, celle de Robben Island, suscite chez ses visiteurs la même angoisse, celle d’un enfermement sans issue que la plupart n’ont pas connu. C’est le début de la leçon.

Le regard erre en débarquant, et tombe sur un graffiti préservé: “Indians Welcome…” C’est que six ans après la fermeture de la prison en 1963, l’île d’Alcatraz a été revendiquée et occupée 19 mois par les amérindiens comme un territoire autonome. La suite du texte est recouverte d’une sévère pancarte noire et blanche: “United States Penitentiary, 13 acres, 1 1/2 miles to transport dock, only governments boats permitted, others must keep off  200 yards, no one allowed ashore without a pass”.

Alcatraz 3

Ai Weiwei, enfermé dans la prison géante de son pays, délivre dans l’île sans évadés un message de jeu et de liberté. Tout en haut, dans les salles de l’infirmerie, et ses cellules psychiatriques, la lumière joue sur les blanches fleurs de porcelaine qui débordent des toilettes, des baignoires et des lavabos. Fragiles et virginales offrandes là où devait suinter une eau plus sombre.

Alcatraz 4

A l’étage principal, les blocs de détention, longues galeries bordées de cages grillagées, avec lit étroit et point d’eau exposés, en rang d’oignon. La perte de l’intimité autant que de la liberté. On croit entendre les grilles tinter, et sur ce bruit fantôme les cellules du dernier couloir font entendre musique, poésie et discours de tibétains jugés séparatistes, des Pussy Riots, de Fela Kuti et de Martin Luther King. Ce sera le thème essentiel de cette visite carcérale: tous ceux qui ont risqué ou perdu leur liberté ou leur vie pour augmenter la liberté des autres.

Un bâtiment industriel, plus loin dans l’île, héberge un dragon suspendu aux couleurs de l’arc en ciel dont les flancs sont ornés de citations de Mandela à Snowden, et dont les méandres mènent à des tapis de legos représentant une infinité de prisonniers d’opinion. En contrebas d’une galerie, on voit à travers des vitres poussiéreuses des formes d’ailes métalliques, panneaux solaires rouillés, auxquelles pendent des ustensiles traditionnels tibétains. Tout ici proteste, et se joue de l’espace carcéral.

Alcatraz 5

Alcatraz 7

En fin de visite, l’ancienne administration-librairie de la prison accueille maintenant des stocks de cartes pré-adressées à des prisonniers dont certains ne les recevront jamais. Choisir une carte postale selon l’animal qui y est représenté, un cygne au hasard, découvrir quel prisonnier politique en est le destinataire, un prisonnier au Laos dont on n’avait jamais entendu parler. On rédige en fouillant son imagination quelques mots à cet inconnu, comme une bouteille dans l’océan des atteintes aux droits de l’homme. Ce petit devoir d’écolier fait toucher de la plume l’immensité de la tâche, après une visite pleine de couleurs et d’informations sur les prisonniers d’opinion et le devoir d’espérance qu’ils paient de leur liberté de mouvement.

Ai Weiwei a connu l’incarcération. Il sait que l’art et la mémoire survolent les murs des prisons, en préservant la respiration intérieure des dissidents ou des martyrs de toutes les époques et de tous les régimes. Wei-Wei nous fait communiquer avec ces consciences libres derrière leurs barreaux, pour ouvrir les frontières et les geôles.


The Art of International Justice: The CICC Arts Initiative to End Impunity

by Fiana Gantheret

A Spanish version of this post is available on the CICC Global Justice blog

How is it possible for art to capture and represent the nature of large-scale massacres ? the desolation of ravaged countries ? the end of a man’s impunity as well as the end of his freedom ? testimonies on unforgettable and intolerable events ? the attempts to establish the truth ? the ever unanswered questions of victims ?…

In other words, is it possible for art to encapsulate the various aspects of the vast issue that is the accountability of men for large-scale crimes? By making these aspects visible, can art participate in raising awareness about the role and processes of international justice ?

That is apparently the belief of William R. Pace, Convenor of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), an international non-governmental organisation advocating to strengthen international cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC). Indeed, the CICC launched an Arts Initiative last April aimed at enriching the dialogue on global justice. The Coalition’s Arts Initiative to End Impunity was inaugurated with the screening of The Enclave, an audio, video and photo installation on the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo by the artist Richard Mosse.

[vimeo 67115692 w=500 h=281]

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Constructions of Truth – Forensic Architecture as a Fact Finding Tool in the Context of Human Rights Violations

by Nicola Popovic and Fiana Gantheret

Through designing public and private space, architecture has always been at the crossroads of aesthetics and function. The design of houses, public areas and cities depends maybe more than any other art form on the purpose of its use. Architectural products are an integral part of the life and movement of people. Their given social functions influence their construction. Therefore, typology of architecture, as well as the function and purpose of buildings and public or private spaces, can be indicators of politically-driven actions and initiatives at a given time. Human life and movement have been influenced by the planification and the development of buildings and landscapes. Architecture has grown into a potential mechanism of control of individuals and groups in modern times. Building walls or bridges, the restriction and control of freedom of movement through the design of correction facilities or housing demolition in armed conflicts, are potential infringements on human rights.


Forensis | The width of the line crossing the “Red Castle” in Battir | Photo: DAAR / Amina Bech

The analysis of the traces of human rights violations in buildings or other physical structures is the subject of Forensic Architecture, a research project funded by the European Research Council and hosted by the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of LondonForensic Architecture assembles a team of architects, artists, activists and theorists and aims at gathering and presenting evidence in legal contexts and forums, and more specifically in the context of human rights and international criminal legal investigations.

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