Discover more from ESG on a Sunday
Week 2: Can art change the world?
In this issue: ▸ Art’s potential to transform society ▸ Introducing Petra Stelzer ▸ Is it true that everything has been said about human rights?
Standing still. All of it. Frozen fear kept in the jars, on the shelfs, on the tables. Distributed as medicine, recommended as cure. Complacency packed in plastic lunch boxes with no expiry date.
Quiet approvals. Organised defeat. Axioms of reality submerged in a flow of half-hearted business-as-usual solutions for the masses. Few asking questions, so many providing answers.
What can we do differently? How can we approach what we are facing from a different perspective? How can we elevate our collective consciousness as a species?
All of this is, after all, about us. The tools used so far – politics, economy, science – have provided limited comfort and maybe there are other ways to talk to us. Because we stopped listening some time ago.
Art’s potential to transform society
Throughout history, the arts have played a major role in recording and reflecting the state of human society and the natural world in which society exists. While we need the rational, practical knowledge of science, we also need the unique personal, aesthetic responses that art provides. These responses can engage the personal values and emotions that are so crucial to motivate action.
Contemporary art, with its intimate connection to the time in which it arises, has the intellectual and creative capacity to be a powerful trans-disciplinary change agent, bringing together otherwise disparate fields of science, policy and politics.
Critical and creative thinking by both artists and curators provide a unique and innovative way to engage with both the challenges and opportunities arising from climate change. In a conversation that is so often bogged down in party politics and ideological orthodoxy, art can develop new alliances across geographical borders, academic disciplines and social demographics, and may just provide the catalyst that can prick our collective conscience.
Art and arts-based practices are increasingly seen as a powerful way of developing meaningful connection with climate change, with humans role in it. Artistic and creative practices and approaches can help expand our imaginaries of the future, opening up our minds to new scenarios of change.
Art’s potential to transform society, as well as its capacity to support agency and inspire feelings of hope, responsibility, and care, has been known for a long time and aesthetical practices can contribute to deep emotional learning about sustainability.
For example, artistic practices can create openness towards more-than human worlds, providing access to different sources of cognitive, emotional, and sensual experiences. Art can also attend to and transform emotions, creating hope, responsibility, care, and solidarity.
Read more here.
Introducing Petra Stelzer
In the context of ESG, human rights is widely used as criteria investors assess, evaluate and pay attention to. Respect, sign on to, write about, report on. Human rights. Say it a couple of times, let it sink in. Yes, it is worth living and fighting for.
This week I have invited my friend Petra Stelzer to share her view on the importance of art in the context of human rights.
Petra is a Vienna-based art world professional with over 25 years of working experience in this field. Her professional profile includes jobs for one of Europe’s most prominent galleries as well as work as advisor for private and institutional clients.
For the past few years she has curated an exclusive international Art Salon in Vienna in collaboration with various Viennese Museums. She has acted as curator, co-initiator and in the conceptual development and execution of the book project Imagine Human Rights – Artists Celebrate the Universal Declaration.
Networking and knowledge are integral elements of Petra’s work, and thus it is logical for her to seek forums that hitherto seemed incongruous in order to promote messages and subject matter that concerns us all, and where that very cross-fertilization may come to fruition in often unpredictable, surprising ways.
Art is as much a platform to discuss the most challenging issue of our time: the climate crisis, and in tandem with it, human rights.
These themes oblige us to look where we fail as society, and where our common humanity is under threat.
Now, I will give the word to Petra.
Is it true that everything has been said about human rights?
By Petra Stelzer
It is predominantly the abuse and suppression of human rights that we hear about – the media keeps us abreast continuously.
But who is actually talking and discussing the contents of the human rights declaration in the spirit of a positive foundation for how we should live in the world?
Their positive message provides the foundation that democracies are shaped on as well as the foundational elements for any civil society, national or international.
More than 70 years after its inception, the Declaration of Human Rights has lost none of its core strength or validity in any of its articles. It is all the more astounding that its contents are not discussed more actively, that too little reference is made to them in terms of building blocks for any human life, for any society.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address, in which he aimed to garner support for the U.S. to enter WWII in order to put an end to the atrocities committed against humanity all over Europe, included a brief, but very succinct paragraph, his call to establish ‘Four Freedoms’ all over the world, in an effort to ensure the sanctity of human life in any and all societies across the globe.
These four pillars – Freedom of speech, Freedom of worship, Freedom from want, Freedom from fear – became the clarion call for the allied effort to end Fascism and its adherent malice, terror, disregard and systematic destruction of entire peoples, and civil society as such. After the end of WWII and the conclusion of the Nuremberg Trials, which marked the first time an international tribunal sat jointly to speak the law against war crimes, the United Nations proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948.
Since then the world has seen many wars, and the U.N. Declaration has lost none of its acuity. To the contrary, at a time when religious wars set different parts of the world aflame again, leading to the obliteration of cities, ancient sites, extinguishing many lives, and prompting millions more to flee their home countries, it is time to reflect whose shoulders we stand on.
To raise a voice against these dire circumstances, we believe it is of great importance to steer attention to and further disseminate the message of the human rights, which we believe to be one of solace, healing, growth and peace.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the sole unifying foundation for a humane and civil global society, and we hope to support and spread its unequivocally positive message with our initiative entitled Imagine Human Rights – Artists Celebrate the Universal Declaration.
As much as The Declaration may seem common knowledge, it clearly is not lodged well enough in public perception and we aim to raise the level of awareness to embolden any effort towards improvement of equality, diversity, and civility – to name just a few of its foundational elements.
This groundbreaking document deserves every bit of support and we think there is no better way than seeking to team up with creative voices which help us illustrate and spread its message.
Our publication Imagine Human Rights – Artists Celebrate the Universal Declaration presents the thirty articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the six official languages of the United Nations: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish.
It juxtaposes the human rights articles with a multitude of artworks and wishes to thereby inspire a debate beyond the written word and aims to promote the potential the Human Rights Declaration holds for all of mankind in that it provides a guideline shaped by an ethical common ground so essential for any form of civilized society.
Here’s a video introduction to the book:
56 internationally renowned artists agreed to participate in the making of the book project to underscore the positive message of the book’s content. They selected works in support of or in direct dialogue with the subject matter.
One such work is Koen Vanmechelen’s piece of art entitled Collective Memory.
Starting with Ancient Greece as the cradle of our democracy (the child), all the way to the Encyclopedia of Human Rights (books), the installation Collective Memory delivers a clear statement. It looks to a future built on our fundamental human rights which act as a guide to subsequent generations. This installation represents them. Above all, it claims that every newborn child has the right to a life worth living in which there is lasting respect for Human Rights.
You can watch a small video of Koen and the sculpture here:
The 56 artists who participate in the book project are:
Etel Adnan, Francis Alÿs, Claudia Andujar, Alice Attie, Yto Barrada, Taysir Batniji, Anna Boghigian, Edward Burtynsky, Robert Campbell Junior, Los Carpinteros, Mary Ellen Carrol, Olga Chernysheva, Adriana Czernin, Kiri Dalena, Nick Danziger, Manal al Dowayan, Leandro Erlich, Ori Gersht, Fiona Hall, Dan Holdsworth, Jenny Holzer, Christine Sun Kim, Joseph Kosuth, Sigalit Landau & Yotam From, Ilana Lewitan, Rachel Libeskind, Thomas Locher, Jorge Macchi, Ahmed Mater, Mohau Modisakeng, Richard Mosse, Moataz Nasr, Yoko Ono, Catherine Opie, Julian Opie, Philip Aguirre Y Otegui, Ugo Rondinone, Chemi Rosado-Seijo, Ed Ruscha, Stefan Sagmeister, Walid Siti, Bob & Roberta Smith, Hong Soun, Pascale Marthine Tayou, Javier Téllez, Barthélémy Toguo, Liliane Tomasko, Koen Vanmechelen, Joana Vasconcelos, Massimo Vitali, Petros Vrellis, Edmund De Waal, Erwin Wurm, He Xiangyu, José Yaque and Qiu Zhijie.
You can learn much more on the project’s website:
I hope this post in Sasja Beslik’s ‘ESG on a Sunday’ newsletter will inspire readers to explore further and experience more of art’s transformative power.