What is an Artistic Practice of Human Rights?

What is an Artistic Practice of Human Rights? is a multi-day summit taking place April 29 and May 1, 2017 hosted by the University of Chicago and composed of a group of distinguished international artists who will propose, examine, and challenge the ways in which creative cultural resistance can broaden our collective understanding of human rights. 

Through artist performances and presentations on April 29 and a public forum on May 1, the summit will delve deeply into how artists are utilizing creative expression to frame conversations and advance action around myriad human rights issues, from criminal justice to LGBTQ rights, youth violence to poverty, immigration rights to refugee crises, and other areas where the personal intersects the political. Co-presented by the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry, the Logan Center for the Arts, and the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights


Artists: Lola Arias, Jelili Atiku, Tania Bruguera, Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti of Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency, Carlos Javier Ortiz, and Laurie Jo Reynolds  


Day one of the Summit features an immersive day of artist presentations to include performances, screenings, conversations, and lectures. Each artist has been provided with a 45-minute slot during which they will either deliver a presentation about their particular practice and the ways in which it illuminates human rights issues, or present a work of art created specifically for the summit. 

Day two of the Summit features a public forum comprising two artist panels moderated by members of the summit's organizational team.

In addition to the two public days, the participating artists will take part in several private workshops, some of which will inform how they approach the public forum. One of the major goals of the summit is to provide each invited artist with a connection to one another, and an opportunity to forge deeper understandings of each other’s practices and their own.


In conjunction with the Summit, Weinberg / Newton Gallery has organized an exhibition entitled In Acts. The group exhibition features work by Summit artists and offers further engagement with their given practices. During the exhibition, the gallery also became a site for Summit related activity, such as an artist-only convening that took place on April 30, and a public conversation between Summit organizer Mark Phillip Bradley and artist Amber Ginsburg.

SATURDAY APRIL 29 /  9:30am - 5pm / Artists' Presentations

Tania Bruguera / 10:30-11:15am
Tania Bruguera’s practice and research investigates ways in which art can be applied to everyday political life, focusing on the transformation of social affect into political effectiveness. Her long-term projects have been intensive interventions on the institutional structure of collective memory, education, and politics. Bruguera’s work often responds to social and political issues unfolding in real time, and in that spirit, her lecture demonstration at the summit will be informed by timely, crucial dialogues happening in the public sphere. Working with what she terms ‘Useful Art,’ Bruguera will include participants in creating work that moves beyond the symbolic gesture to manifest change in our political reality. Bruguera discusses ‘Surplus Value,’ a part of her on-going Immigrant Movement International project here. When asked to describe her contribution to the summit, Bruguera responded with the following:

"To resist is not enough. Streets filled with crowds can evoke the idea of a battleground or the building-up of an election. Use chants as if they were drums in order to spread the waves of commitment and slogans in order to highlight all the things that are wrong. But the streets are not enough. Be an active individual: it shows them you are not afraid. Learn the language of power, use the verbs they are scared of, publicly unveil their worst nightmare – act for them, not for us. Behave on a one-to-one scale with those you consider responsible. Laugh intelligently but never laugh before you begin. Laugh after your goal is achieved, after your opposition is tricked, conflicted and incoherent because you took their power away with a simple human gesture. Don’t laugh about what they do, laugh about what you were able to do to them. What we know is not enough. Be persistent without tiring others. Use forms and actions that are legible for the resistance but new to the repressors. The time you have is the time they are using to figure out how to respond. Feeling good is not enough: create a political moment."

Lola Arias / 11:15-12pm
Argentinian artist Lola Aria's work explores the boundaries between reality and fiction, using biographies and documentation in surreal or poetic ways. For the summit she will be discussing her work in the field of theater, urban interventions and visual arts. She will share the creative process of My Life After, a play about the generation born during the military dictatorship in Argentina; Maids, an urban intervention made in Ibis hotels all over the world; and Minefield, a project with English and Argentine veterans of the Malvinas/Falklands war).

Laurie Jo Reynolds / 1:00-1:45pm
A practitioner of what she terms “legislative art,” artist, policy advocate, and professor, Laurie Jo Reynolds, is most well-known for the Tamms Year Ten project, a grassroots legislative campaign that spurred the closure of the supermax prison Tamms Correctional Center in Illinois. Reynolds’ current project focuses on public crime registries—questioning state responses to sexual abuse and violence by examining public registration and notification laws, and related restrictions. In this presentation, the artist will bring together people directly affected by violence, imprisonment, and registration laws, including previously incarcerated individuals currently on public crime registries. The participants will illuminate how current policies expand the carceral state and lessen the responsibility of lawmakers to pass evidence-based policies while­ ultimately failing to address sexual abuse and assault, recognize structural patterns of crime and victimization, or promote true public safety. Reynolds presents her work on the Honey Bun Comedy Hour here.

Carlos Javier Ortiz / 2:00-2:45pm
Carlos Javier Ortiz will screen his two short documentaries, A Thousand Midnights and We All We Got. In A Thousand Midnights, Ortiz explores the contemporary Black experience through the story of the Great Migration. Like thousands of other Black people, his mother in law Bette Parks-Sacks came to Chicago in the 1950s and lived on the city’s Southside. The story explores the relationship between past and present forms of racial and economic exploitation. We All We Got is an elegy of urban America. The film is an intimate portrait of people affected by violence: including community activists, kids, and cops. The screenings will be followed by a panel discussion and Q&A session moderated by Jacqueline Stewart, Professor, Department of Cinema and Media Studies. More on the work of Ortiz here. 

Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency: Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti  / 3:00-3:45pm
Permanent Temporariness: Claiming Rights from within Refugee Camps
This talk will explore how Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency, in exploring the paradoxes and the potentialities of the contemporary condition of “Permanent Temporariness” of refugee camps, aims to cultivate a practice based on the strengths instead of the weaknesses of the refugee condition. This prospective provides the intellectual and practical terrain for the reconceptualization in refugee camps not only as humanitarian spaces, but also as sites where new claims can be made or, more fundamentally, where the right to politics can be reclaimed. The principles and practices infusing the work of Decolonizing Architecture emerge in this brief video.

Jelili Atiku / 4:00-5:00pm
Ajembete (performance/talk) is a critical performative dialogue about the world’s sincerity in upholding the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The discussion makes reference to alarming but prevalent violent intolerance against groups—such as shooting rampages and homicides targeting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community—and identifies how unchecked attacks on civil, political, social, economic, religious, and cultural rights and freedoms are mounting in our modern era. The Ajembete reasons that, despite global affirmations of the UDHR, the world has colluded in oppression by passively accepting hypocritical and deceitful behaviors that undermine the doctrines of inviolable human rights. Atiku’s work is profiled here.
Please note: this performance involves a walking procession through surrounding streets. The artist will lead attendees on this procession.

Contribute to Jelili Atiku's Performance:

Jelili Atiku is focusing his project on article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”. In the prevailing circumstances, everywhere, we see hate crimes, shooting rampage and homicides against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community; we see attacks on civil, political, social, economic, religious and cultural rights and freedoms.

For his summit performance on April 29, he wants the community to think about this and respond. He will take the responses and place them in over 400 glass bottles, which he will then wear and process down the Midway in a meditative processional performance.

Artist Profiles:


Lola Arias is a writer, theatre director, and performer, often working collaboratively with artists from other disciplines like literature, music, film and visual art. Playing with overlapping zones between reality and fiction, recent productions have included non-professional performers from local populations, such as The art of making money (2013), which was performed by beggars, prostitutes and street musicians from the city of Bremen, and The art of arriving (2015), which used Bulgarian children living in Germany to develop a scenic tutorial reflecting upon how one starts a new life in another country. Arias has also published books of poetry, fiction and plays. Her works for theatre have been performed at festivals including Lift Festival, Festival d’Avignon, Theater Spektakel, Zurich, Wiener Festwochen, Festival Theaterformen, Spielart Festival, Munich, Alkantara Festival, Lisbon, Under the radar, NY, and in venues such as Theatre de la Ville, Red Cat LA, Walker Art Centre, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Royal Court London. More on Lola Arias' work here.

Jelili Atiku is a Nigerian multimedia artist with political concerns for human rights and justice who works through drawing, installation sculpture, photography, video and live art performance.  Since 2008, he has been involved in an ongoing performance project, In the Red, which uses red as a symbol of life, suffering, danger and violence. Most recently he has focused on enacting social intervention and politically motivated live art performances – where self-invented costumes and audience are integrated as symbolic content. He was arrested and detained in January 2016 by the Nigerian state during a performance of his Aragamago Will Rid This Land of Terrorism, an intervention that is part of his public campaign against domestic terrorism. He has performed his work in public spaces and festivals in Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Togo, Benin, Cameroun, Uganda and Sweden, and at museums including Tate Modern and the Broad.  Born in 1968 in Ejigbo (Lagos), Nigeria, he was trained at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria and University of Lagos, Nigeria. 

Tania Bruguera, born in 1968 in Havana, Cuba, is a politically motivated performance artist who explores the relationship between art, activism, and social change in works that examine the social effects of political and economic power. She expands the definition and range of performance art, sometimes performing solo but more often staging participatory events and interactions that build on her own observations, experiences, and interpretations of the politics of repression and control. Her 100-hour performance—an open-studio reading of Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) — in Havana in May 2015 was was interrupted by Cuban authorities, who detained her for eight months. A Guggenheim fellow, major exhibitions of her work have appeared at the Museum of Modern Art, Havana Biennial, Venice Biennale, Tate Modern and Documenta.  

Based in Palestine, Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti have spent the last ten years developing their theoretically ambitious, practically engaged artistic practice focused on the struggle for justice and equality. In 2007, along with Eyal Weizman, they co-founded Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency (DAAR) in Beit Sahour, Palestine with the aim of combining an architectural studio with an art residency in order to bring together architects, artists, activists, urbanists, film-makers, and curators to work collectively on the subjects of politics and architecture (www.decolonizing.ps). Campus in Camps, an experimental educational program founded in 2012 at Dheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, has offshoots in other Palestinian camps, as well as an interconnected consortium of universities around the world (www.campusincamps.ps). Hilal and Petti co-authored, along with Eyal Weizman, the book Architecture after Revolution (Sternberg, Berlin 2014) as an invitation to rethink today’s struggles for justice and equality not only from the histor­ical perspective of revolution, but also from that of a continued struggle for decolonization. Their practice has been the recipient of the Keith Haring Fellowship in Art and Activism at Bard College, Loeb Fellowship Harvard University, Price Claus Prize for Architecture, Curry Stone Design Prize, the New School’s Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics, Anni and Heinrich Sussmann Artist Award, the Chrnikov Prize as well as a Foundation for Art Initiatives grant. 

Carlos Javier Ortiz is a director, cinematographer and documentary photographer who focuses on urban life, gun violence, racism, poverty and marginalized communities. In 2016, Carlos received a Guggenheim Fellowship for film/video. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in a variety of venues including the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts; the International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, NY; the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago; the Detroit Institute of Arts; and the Library of Congress. His photographs have also been published in The New Yorker, and Mother Jones, among many others, including the Atlantic Magazine, which used his photographs to illustrate The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2014), the cover story for the best selling issue in the history of the magazine. His 2014 film, We All We Got, uses images and sounds to convey a community’s deep sense of loss and resilience in the face of gun violence. We All We Got has been screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, Los Angeles International Film Festival, St. Louis International Film Festival, CURRENTS Santa Fe International New Media Festival, and the Athens International Film + Video Festival. 

Laurie Jo Reynolds is an artist and policy advocate whose work addresses the harms of the U.S. prison system, particularly challenging the demonization, warehousing and social exclusion of people in the criminal legal system.  As a 2010 Soros Fellow, Reynolds researched and advocated for best practices to stop sexual abuse and reduce crime recidivism.  For the past decade, she has focused on the Tamms Correctional Center, a supermax prison in southern Illinois. Her upcoming projects include Prison Aesthetics and Policy, an interdisciplinary effort to research the aesthetic and sensory experiences of prisoners and staff, and the Honey Bun Comedy Hour, an original web series depicting the horror, boredom and small mercies of prison life. Reynolds is a 2014 Blade of Grass Foundation Fellow, a 2015 Opportunity Agenda Communications Institute Fellow and the 2013 recipient of Creative Time Foundation’s Leonore Annenberg Prize for Art and Social Change. She lives and works in Chicago, teaching at the School of Art and Art History at the University of Illinois-Chicago.


The summit received extensive press coverage, including previews, reviews, and a radio interview: 

UChicago News
Columbia Chronicle
WBEZ - Worldview
Chicago Maroon