Human Rights and the Arts


How can we conceptualize, imagine and inhabit a renewed and compelling space to remake the theory and practice of human rights in the twenty-first century? How might arresting stories and images hold the potential to open up alternative possibilities of re-imaging the kind of work that human rights might do? Can objects, images and performance jolt us into new ways of seeing and acting?

These central questions inform the Pozen Center’s sustained support for projects that explore the links between artistic practice and human rights, including conferences, workshops, lectures, exhibitions and performances.  In this work, the Pozen Center has collaborated with a variety of campus and community arts institutions.

Read below for more details about select past activities. 

Participating Faculty

Mark Bradley (History), Jim Chandler (Cinema & Media Studies, Franke Institute), Susan Gzesh (Pozen Center), Judy Hoffman (Cinema and Media Studies), Sonali Thakkar (English), David J. Levine (German/Theatre), Leslie Buxbaum-Danzig (TAPS),  Zachary Cahill (DoVA), Steven Rings (Music), Jacqueline Stewart (Cinema) and Thomas Keenan (Bard College)

Select Past Activities

What is an Artistic Practice of Human Rights?
Spring 2017

This multi-day summit hosted by the University of Chicago composed of a group of distinguished international artists who proposed, examined, and challenged 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 explored 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.

The participating artists work in various artistic practices including visual art, installation, photography, performance, theater, architecture, and film. They include: Lola Arias (Argentina), Jelili Atiku (Nigeria), Tania Bruguera (Cuba), Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti of Decolonizing Architecture (Palestine), Carlos Javier Ortiz (United States), and Laurie Jo Reynolds (United States). The artists were named as Pozen Visiting Professors and participated in a special session with students from Big Problems: Arts and Human Rights course. 

This project was co-presented with the Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.

View: Summit Webpage | Artist Profiles | Summit Photos

Read a reflection on the project by Susan Gzesh from the first issue of Portable Gray, the Gray Center’s magazine.

In addition, the Weinberg/Newton Gallery in Chicago mounted a nine-week exhibition called In Acts, which displayed work from the participating artists. The Pozen Center hosted conversations at the gallery on April 18 about human rights on the south side of Chicago and on May 18 the intersection of art and history, which placed the work of the Center in the context of the artists’ exhibition.

Crossing the Vertical Border: On the Central American Migrant Trail
April 18 - June 10, 2016 

This series of conversations featured Salvadoran journalist Óscar Martínez about his books on Central America and Catalan photojournalist Edu Ponces about his photographic work, on display at the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture throughout the Spring Quarter.

The Bridge: An Art Exhibition
April 12 - May 19, 2016

The Bridge was a traveling exhibition that showcased the work of forty-seven premier Arab, Persian, and Jewish contemporary visual artists from fifteen countries, of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish backgrounds. It focused upon what bridges us to one another, as well as to what is held in common across creeds and cultures. Presented by Caravan, a peacebuilding arts NGO, in artistic partnership with Rockefeller Chapel and the Pozen Center. View photos

Art Gallery Collaborations

In Spring 2015, Pozen Visiting Professor Monica McWilliams spoke at Art Works’ 625 Gallery in conjunction with an exhibit of photographs by University of Chicago PhD student David Schalliol documenting contemporary social conflicts in Northern Ireland. In October 2015 Ana Raquel Minian (Assistant Professor at Stanford University) and Kristin Greer Love (staff attorney at the ACLU of New Mexico) spoke at Art Works’ 625 Gallery at an exhibit of photographs documenting child labor abuse in agriculture in Mexico. Both Minian and Love are alumni of the University and of the Human Rights Internship Program.  

In March 2016, Executive Director Susan Gzesh spoke at the Weinberg/Newton Gallery at a symposium on immigration law coordinated by Human Rights Watch as part of the Soul Asylum exhibit.  

Commemorating El Mozote 
October - November 2014

In October and November 2014, the Pozen Center collaborated with Chicago Presents and the Logan Center for the Arts to provide a human rights context for the performance of David Little’s Haunt of Last Nightfall by the contemporary ensemble Third Coast Percussion. Little wrote Haunt of Last Nightfall to memorialize a massacre of Salvadoran peasants by the Salvadoran army in 1982. The Pozen Center brought together photographer Susan Meiselas, forensics investigator and Pozen Visiting Professor Eric Stover, Salvadoran community leader Oscar Chacon, and University of Illinois-Chicago professor and participant in the Salvadoran Peace Process Joaquin Chavez in a dialogue with the musicians and composer to discuss the political and historical context of Little’s piece, as well as the panelists’ work on documenting and publicizing the massacre in the 1980s. View Poster.

The El Mozote project was organized by Executive Director Susan Gzesh and Pozen Visiting Professor Eric Stover.

Collaborations with Chicago art galleries

The Pozen Center has collaborated with Chicago art galleries dedicated to exhibitions focused on social justice issues, including Art Works and Weinberg/Newton Gallery.

Related Courses

Big Problems: Arts and Human Rights | HMRT 25502 (Spring 2017)
Mark Bradley (History) and Leslie Buxbaum-Danzig (TAPS)

Documentary Production I and II | ARTV 23930/33930 (offered every year) 
Judy Hoffman (Cinema and Media Studies)

These courses develop skills in documentary production leading to the shaping and crafting of a nonfiction video. Students are expected to write a treatment detailing their project. Production techniques focus on the handheld camera versus tripod, interviewing and microphone placement, and lighting for the interview. Postproduction covers finishing techniques. Students then screen final projects in a public space.

Artists Look at Women and War | HMRT 29506/39506 (Autumn 2015)
Pamela Blotner, Visiting Lecturer; Visiting Professor, St. Mary’s College

This cross-disciplinary course used an historical lens to examine how artists have portrayed women in wartime, and how those portrayals have evolved over time. The course included a practicum component in which students will produce a final creative work, either in visual art or writing, about an issue to which they are especially drawn.