Art in Protest highlights artists living under authoritarian regimes or in exile, whose art is connected to their struggle for democracy and basic human rights in their countries.
What is Art in Protest?
The Art in Protest program is HRF’s answer to the repression of creativity that authoritarian regimes impose. Dictatorships succeed when they are able to confuse and conceal, shifting attention away from the truth. Art can expose that deception, speaking with an emotional immediacy that is stronger than any statement, and able to resonate more widely than any declaration. Recognizing the transformative potential of art, HRF established Art in Protest as the first program to support dissident artists around the world who use their art to make a lasting impact in the global struggle against authoritarianism.
Since its inception, Art in Protest has hosted events for diverse audiences in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oslo, showcasing artists from North Korea, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Turkey, and China, connecting the art world and human rights activists. The goal of the program is to support and exhibit the work of artists from around the world who struggle to express themselves in the face of oppressive governments. In this way, Art in Protest aims to create a dialogue about the state of artistic expression on a global scale, and to shed light on those brave people who are willing to risk their lives in the pursuit of self-expression. Many of the artists’ works are intentionally political, but several have had their art politicized for the mere act of self-expression.
The Art in Protest virtual galleryfeatures works by artists from North Korea, Afghanistan, Turkey, China, and Venezuela, and is now available to view online.
Art in Protest Impact
Shamsia Hassani (Ommolbanin Hassani) was born in 1988 to Afghan parents in Tehran, Iran, and is a graffiti artist and muralist. Shamsia has experimented with many techniques in painting, and created Afghanistan’s first 3D painting in 2014. She has been nvited to different countries (Italy, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Turkey, India, Iran, Vietnam, Canada, Australia, and many times to the United States of America) to display her graffiti (mural art), and for exhibitions, workshops, and seminars. She was named one of FP’s 100 global thinkers in 2014.
The Gao Brothers are a pair of artist brothers based in Beijing and New York. Gao Zhen (born in 1956) and Gao Qiang (born in 1962) have been on the vanguard of contemporary art in China, collaborating on painting, installation, performance, sculpture, photography, and writing since 1985, but it was not until 2003 that they were allowed to leave the PRC, after years on an official blacklist that barred them from receiving external passports. Since 2003, with numerous exhibitions worldwide, their work has begun to circulate in the world, gaining critical accolades for their socially progressive, conceptually anchored and aesthetically diverse art, been held in private and museum collections, such as Steven Cohen, Charles Saatchi, Ramin Salsali, Centre Georges Pompidou, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Princeton University Art Museum, Kemper Museum Of Contemporary Art, etc. At the 2019 Oslo Freedom Forum, the Gao Brothers performed a rendition of their iconic “Utopia of the Embrace,” a transformative public performance art project rooted in the belief that love can reclaim humanity. The performance gathered 100 strangers in embrace, creating a profound moment of connection and love for the community.
Song Byeok was a state propaganda artist in North Korea until he escaped after famine killed his parents and sister. He has been based in South Korea since 2002, producing acrylic paintings that stylistically echo his earlier work but satirize the regime he was once forced to celebrate and often incorporate symbols of peace. Song uses a pseudonym to protect his remaining relatives in North Korea. His work is part of The Human Rights Foundation’s Art in Protest program, based on the premise that ‘Art can expose government abuse and corruption… and inspire a nation to seek freedom. Dictators … fear the power of art’. Art in Protest showcased Song’s work at events in Los Angeles and San Francisco in 2018.