Where art and human rights unite

The Art in Protest program is HRF’s answer to the repression of creativity that authoritarian regimes impose. Dictatorships are built on misinformation meant to confuse and pacify their populations. Art can provide a vehicle for protest that targets this deception at its core, through an emotional immediacy that penetrates deeper than official statements or demonstrations. Recognizing the transformative potential of art, HRF has established the first program to support dissident artists around the world. By giving these individuals a broader platform for their work, we can help them make a lasting impact in the global struggle against authoritarianism.

Since its inception, AIP has hosted events for diverse audiences in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oslo, showcasing artists from North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Afghanistan, 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, to new audiences. 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 intentionally have a political content, but several have had their art politicized for the mere act of self-expression.

"Art is changing minds and minds can change society."

Shamsia Hassani, Afghan street artist
Shamsia Hassani

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.

Gao Brothers

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

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.

Would you like to host an Art in Protest event? Contact [email protected]