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Art, creativity, and free expression are some of the greatest threats to authoritarian rule. Through its soft power, art can expose abuses and injustices perpetrated by dictators, and rally civil society around a cause. For this reason, the Oslo Freedom Forum has become a natural home for musicians, performers, comedians, and visual artists who are using free expression to promote human rights and challenge tyranny. Here are some highlights from our arts programming at the 2022 Oslo Freedom Forum.

Art in Protest Residency:
Transmuting Borders

“Los Héroes No Pesan” (“Heroes Are No Burden”) by the Cuban dissident artist, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara

The Art in Protest Artist Residency, launched in 2021 in partnership with the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, allows artists-in-residence to develop projects that use art and technology to create social and civic impact.

Transmuting Borders is a digital installation featuring works from HRF resident artists: Sudanese political cartoonist Khalid Albaih, Syrian contemporary artist Tammam Azzam, exiled Chinese dissident artist Badiucao, and Belarusian illustrator Lilia Kvatsabaya. The artworks explore themes of protest in the face of global authoritarianism, and the refugee crisis it perpetuates. Transmuting Borders leverages emerging technologies – like immersive media collaged from digital archival footage, 3D body scans, and virtual reality — to express the hopes and sorrows of those displaced by violence, conflict, and war.

The exhibit also showcased Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara’s 2011 sculpture, “Los Héroes No Pesan” (“Heroes Are No Burden”), for the first time outside Cuba.

Read more about the exhibition here.

Memory Gates

Memory Gates is a 3D art installation by Armenian-Syrian artist Kevork Mourad, who grew up in Aleppo, Syria.

Mourad’s work explores the complexities and connections between memory and place. For this installation, Mourad worked with monotype prints, which were applied to fabric, cut meticulously, and then hung within the space. The gates appear to be constructed from stony blocks conjured from ancient pasts. By tapping into the language of defined boundaries, prescribed ritual, and imbued power, Mourad releases the objects from the specificities of the past and claims them for a shared, human, and universal history.

Each exhibit attendee who walked inside the “Memory Gates” would identify with at least one element depicted in the installation, and be reminded of “home.”

Stand With Ukraine: An ArtLords Community Mural

OFF 2022 guests were invited to contribute to a community mural designed by ArtLords co-founders Omaid Sharifi and Kabir Mokamel.

Pictured left: An Oslo Freedom Forum guest contributing to the “Stand With Ukraine” community mural. Pictured right: The finished “Stand With Ukraine” community mural.

Established in 2014, ArtLords is a global grassroots movement of artivists motivated to pave the way for social transformation and behavioral change through the power of art and culture. The community mural pays tribute to the children of Ukraine by exploring the simple and innocent act of children drawing. The children in this piece call on the world’s citizens to gather — depicted as a collective of doves morphing into one bird, dwarfing the fighter jet, a symbol of war — and bring peace to their war-torn country.

Zarifa Ghafari, 2022 Oslo Freedom Forum speaker, and exiled Afghan activist and politician, contributed to the mural alongside ArtLords founders Omaid Sharifi and Kabir Mokamel.

Guests left messages of solidarity for Ukraine in over 15 languages, including:

The PaykanArtCar

The PaykanArtCar project unites the talents of contemporary Iranian artists in the diaspora with a beloved symbol of Iranian national pride.

Iranian dissident artist Alireza Shojaian transformed a historic 1974 Paykan automobile — once owned by the brutal dictator of Romania Nicolae Ceaușescu — into a daring piece of art that advocates for human rights and dignity in Iran. The piece features traditional images from Persian literature to challenge contemporary treatment of homosexuals in Iran, giving a voice to LGBTQ+ people in Iran, a minority silenced by a totalitarian regime. The PaykanArtCar is a 2022 laureate of the Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent.

The PaykanArtCar exhibit at the 2022 Oslo Freedom Forum

Pillar of Shame Unveiling

Pillar of Shame is a series of sculptures by Danish artist Jens Galschiøt, memorializing shameful events throughout history.

These sculptures have been featured in Italy, Brazil, Mexico, and Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s Pillar was first erected in 1997 to mark the eighth anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. As a tribute to the pro-democracy protesters who were killed in Tiananmen, the statue depicts twisted bodies with anguished faces. The sculpture was one of the last iconic memorials to the martyrs of Tiananmen remaining on Hong Kong soil, which was dismantled in December 2021, against the backdrop of Beijing’s increasing repression on the once-free city.

On May 25, 2022, HRF, Amnesty International Norway, and the Hong Kong Committee in Norway unveiled the Pillar of Shame at the University of Oslo to serve as a reminder of how precious freedom is, and to stand in solidarity with Hongkongers and all those living under the Chinese Communist Party’s unrelenting repression.

“The Pillar of Shame” by Jens Galschiøt

Impact Litigation: Write a Postcard to a Political Prisoner

Through its Impact Litigation program, HRF seeks to help these individuals pursue justice by submitting emblematic cases of arbitrarily imprisoned dissidents to judicial and semi-judicial international bodies, such as the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Our Impact Litigation exhibit featured portraits and stories of arbitrarily detained dissidents whom HRF has defended. Guests were encouraged to write postcards to these individuals to show them that they are not alone. Activists highlighted in this exhibit included: Waleed Abulkhair, María Lourdes Afiuni Mora, Alireza Alinejad, Azimjan Askarov, Raif Badawi, Uon Chhin, Yeang Sothearin, Keilylli de la Mora, Maksud Ibragimov, Hervé Mombo Kinga, Peacock Generation, Shaparak Shajarizadeh, Hong Kong’s Occupy Leaders, and Johnson Yeung.

Dissident artists in the Oslo Freedom Forum community generously contributed portraits of political prisoners for this exhibition. Special thanks and credits to: Mariana Bernardez (@mbgrafiks), Xavier “Bonil” Bonilla (@bonilcaricatura), Gabriela Cisneros (@cotycisne), Gianluca Costantin (@channeldraw), Stephanie Cui, Liza Donnelly (@lizadonnelly), Gado (@iGaddo), Kianoush (@kianoush), Lilia Kvatsabaya (@lilia_kvatsabaya), and Lubna Safaa (@aiel0l).

OFF 2022 guests wrote messages of support and solidarity to political prisoners defended by HRF’s Legal Team.

 Enes Kanter Freedom’s #FreedomShoes

Professional basketball player Enes Kanter Freedom has personally faced repercussions from an authoritarian regime for speaking out against egregious human rights abuses and understands the importance of using his global platform to increase awareness about these abuses. Since the start of the 2021 NBA season, he has connected with dissident artists — including former AIP resident artist and 2020 Havel Prize Laureate Badiucao — to use his basketball shoes as a canvas to highlight how authoritarian regimes disregard human rights and civil liberties.

Enes Kanter Freedom was recognized as one of HRF’s 2022 Havel Prize Laureates. At the 2022 Oslo Freedom Forum, HRF showcased two pairs of his customized shoes.


Artist: Anonymous

This pair of shoes was first worn by Kanter Freedom on November 20, 2022, at the Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Boston Celtics game at TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts.

“So many people live under brutal dictatorships with no freedoms.
China, Russia, Turkey, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iran, Syria…
If we want peace, we can not stay silent about these cultish regimes and ruthless dictators. Silence is violence!” 

tweeted by Enes Kanter Freedom


Artist: Anonymous

The Poisonous Putin shoes were first worn by Kanter Freedom on February 22, 2022, after he was inexplicably dropped by the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets.

“Poisonous Dictator Vladimir Putin and your henchmen at the @KremlinRussia
Stop the aggression,
Little man, Crazy dreams!

tweeted by Enes Kanter Freedom

Donate to HRF’s Art in Protest program to support dissident artists who use their art to make a lasting impact in the global struggle against authoritarianism. 

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Art in Protest welcomes inquiries by artists whose work is connected to the global struggle for democracy. If you are an artist interested in contributing to this program, please contact