Editorial – Art and Human Rights (April, May and June 2013)

By Erin Handley
Black and white photo of asylum seekers on Melbourne train

For the past couple of months, we at Right Now have been focusing our articles, interviews and creative work on the theme of Art and Human Rights. Art, in all of its forms, whether it’s poetry, writing, music, visual art, film, theatre or dance, speaks to us on a profound level; art moves us in ways that the stuffy language of the law and curt Universal Declarations cannot.

Sienna Merope investigates the surprising union of fashion and human rights, exposing how designing and crafting clothing can impact women in poverty-stricken circumstances. Sienna gives a nuanced understanding of how one’s ability to create allows us to see them as whole human beings – something that is unfortunately lost when narratives focus exclusively on desperation and poverty.

In terms of the written word, Laura Jones gives us insight into the Sydney Story Factory, a creative writing centre for young people in Redfern. The centre gives under-privileged youth a chance to develop their writing skills, and their confidence along with it. We are also delighted to feature the startling and subtle Outcast, a poem by Lizz Murphy.

Singer and songwriter Les Thomas harmonises the power of words with the melody of music. He walks us through the vibrant history of the link between music and human rights activism, sharing his experience of organising concerts to support the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, as well as a song he composed – “Song for Selva” – based on a letter written by an asylum seeker who spent 37 months in detention.

In a unique snapshot of the asylum seeker issue, Asher Hirsh shares some beautiful black and white photographs with us. These images give us a glimpse into the life of a Sri Lankan family of asylum seekers; a chance encounter on the train stamps a human face onto an issue that is often described as a political football.

Although art and craft are often not mentioned in international law or political debates, they significantly impact local communities. Berni M Janssen pens a piece about the Preserves Project, a movement that encourages mindfulness towards neighbours and towards the environment – exchanging a jar of marmalade can foster community. Furthermore, we have published prints designed and created by women from the Horn of Africa community in Melbourne. The artworks were made in workshops at the Carlton Housing Estate, and featured in the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival.

Jacqui Fetchet explores the empowering nature of the blank canvas in her article, exposing how the small scale community program Ngala Nanga Mai uses art as a means for women and children to access health and educational services. For this group, art gives shape to identity.

The sense of community generated through creativity is crucial for the South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault (SECASA) art group. We interviewed Anne Riggs, an artist involved with SECASA, who explains how the artistic process can assist victims of assault to express themselves creatively. For these women, art helps rebuild the confidence and community that has been shattered by trauma and abuse.

In another insightful interview, Emmeline Tyler spoke to Phillip Adams of BalletLab about an upcoming project which uses dance as a medium for expressing the hardships and prejudices faced by AIDS victims. BalletLab are choreographing Kingdom in the hope that this work will become part of the AIDS conference to be held in Melbourne next year.

We also interviewed Kath Duncan from Arts Access Victoria about the plight of artists with a disability, who fight for legitimacy and government funding in order to develop professionally. She criticises the amount of money allocated to artists with a disability under the Creative Australia Policy, as well as the controversial suggestion by former Arts Minister Simon Crean that artists with a disability should be “tolerated”.

On the topic of disability and artistic expression, we are privileged to feature a piece written by documentary filmmaker and CEO of Grit Media, Sarah Barton. She gives us personal insight into the journey of producing No Limits, a community television program that brings people with disabilities out from the sidelines and into the spotlight. There is triumph in this story, but also an acknowledgement that there is more to be done to ensure that people with disabilities can make their voices and opinions heard.

Finally, our coverage of the 2013 Human Rights Arts and Film Festival includes reviews of the festival’s films and art exhibitions, interviews with the organisers, and essays which respond to some of the poignant themes addressed during the festival.

We hope you enjoy this compilation of stories, that are at once creative and about creativity itself. To tell human rights stories through art is at the very core of what we do.

For reviews of all of Right Now’s recent themes go here.

Erin Handley – Editor.

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