Art as an Expression of Human Rights


Whether it was a refined abstract piece of art exposed in a sophisticated art gallery or a graffiti on a half-demolished wall in the middle of a warzone, art has always been a way of expressing emotions and spreading ideas that words could never express. Most leaders and political systems across history agree on the power that the arts have on people and society. Whether they promote freedom and justice or suppress it, none of them underestimates the potential change art can bring to whole systems.



We all might be familiar with the term “freedom of the press”, which has been frequently coined whenever the matter of giving people the ability to express their ideas in the written or spoken language is brought up, but rarely do we hear the idea of “artistic freedom”, which is mainly because this term usually implies controversy. In other words, painters leave the meaning of their artworks to be interpreted, while journalists make it a point to leave no idea unexplained. This concept of controversy leaves art to be less of a rational communication tool and more of a way to move emotions and spread ideals instead of information.

Picture this: Pablo Picasso, the famous journalist who wrote an article about the bombing of a northern Spanish city by Nazi Germany, that might sound very informative, but it conveys few emotions as to what the people in the bombings might have felt, or the extreme chaos that resulted from it. Fortunately for us, Pablo Picasso turned out to be an artist who made the painting called “Guernica” instead. His painting expressed chaos and disorder in a way that cultivated the watcher’s imagination, leaving different interpretations as to the fear, pain, and melancholy the victims of that bombing had felt at the time. In short, Picasso, had he been a journalist, would have never been able to move as many hearts as he did as a painter. This is a clear statement that art is as important as any other means of expression.

As far back as the history of societies goes, art has been a reliable way to either praise the leader or revolt against his injustices. In fact, many artists were regarded as heroes through their actions of defiance to the systems that were oppressing them, through ways as simple as playing music, painting murals, or writing poems. The reason those actions were so praised is that the artists, as well as the people, knew very well that the system that was so wrong actually knows better than to underestimate the potential charge art could bring into people, thus representing a threat to them. During the siege of Sarajevo in the early 1990s, Vedran Smailović, the “Cellist of Sarajevo”, defiantly played his cello outdoors despite the dangers of bombs and snipers. He played at the sites of civilian deaths to honor those who had died, and to bring some hope and beauty to the lives of a besieged population. Such examples of revolt constitute a pure way of expressing anger, sadness, and defend human dignity through beautiful means that may be more efficient than direct combat.

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Published: August 22, 2020
Written by our Alumnus Intern, Rissal Hedna, from Algeria.

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