Seven international artists explore intersection of creative practice and human rights

What is an artistic practice of human rights? That is the driving question of an upcoming UChicago summit, in which distinguished international artists will explore how the arts can address some of the world's most important human rights problems—from criminal justice to refugee crises.

The summit, to be held on April 29 and May 1, will be a chance for a diverse group of artists to share their practices and frame new conversations around myriad human rights issues. It is co-presented by the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry, the Logan Center for the Arts and the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights.

“We wanted to look at artists as practitioners,” said Mark Bradley, faculty director for the Pozen Center, professor of history and one of the curators of the summit. “The artists who are coming don’t necessarily know each other well. Our hope is, as they are talking back and forth, we will identify issues and forms of practice that have viability moving forward.”

A range of artistic mediums and political issues will be on display at the summit through the work of artists from Argentina, Nigeria, Cuba, Palestine and the United States. Carlos Javier Ortiz is a film director and visual artist from the U.S. who looks at urban life in America and the struggles of marginalized communities. He will be sharing two short documentaries: We All We Got, his 2014 film chronicling youth violence in Chicago and Philadelphia, and a new film detailing the 20th century migration of African Americans from the south to the north. Ortiz is excited for the opportunity to meet with fellow artists.


“Sometimes it’s a lonely journey when you’re working, so having a group of people to sit down with and talk about our practice is basically a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Ortiz said. “You really don’t often get to break down each other’s work—not in a critical fashion, but just to learn what each artist does.”


While some of the artists produce art to contemplate, others are taking a more active role. Tania Bruguera is a performance artist from Havana. She explores the relationship between art, activism and social change through her work, which she calls “artivism.” This year, the dissident artist is running for the presidency of Cuba. At the summit, Bruguera will present on a new project she describes as “preemptive art.”


“Instead of doing art that is trying to react to the news, I want to try and imagine it before the fact,” Bruguera said. “I’m trying to understand the institutional political behavior to try and anticipate, to create an art that can respond before it happens, and use art as a rehearsal for the future.”


All the participating summit artists have been named Pozen Visiting Professors. This spring, they will be interacting with UChicago students as part of “Art and Human Rights,” a course that Bradley will be teaching alongside Leslie Buxbaum Danzig, assistant professor of practice in the arts and of theater and performance studies. Bradley believes this won’t be the end of the collaboration.


“Long term, we hope one or two of these artists might come back for quarter-long residencies working with College students on a discrete human rights problem,” he said.


Artists will present their work on April 29 from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will discuss the driving questions that arise from the summit from 6 to 9 p.m. on May 1. Both events will be held at the Logan Center for the Arts and are free and open to the public. 


‘What is an Artistic Practice of Human Rights’ is presented alongside the Weinberg/Newton Gallery exhibition, In Acts, featuring works by each of the summit artists. The exhibition runs from April 7­­ to June 10.


More information on the summit is available on the Gray Center website.