Monday, 9 September 2013

Shooting Poverty into Art

Although not so much falling within the aesthetic pattern of the artworks we have been dealing with in this blog, we bring to you today something that, however, totally meets its objective of also introducing art pieces which have been produced within the scope of humanitarian projects with a social purpose. In fact, and just as we hope to have achieved with our post on the Tree of Life and the project behind it, we expect to touch your hearts and to emotionally engage you.

Pioneering as was the Transforming Arms into Art project developed in Mozambique, and through the agency of some of the organisations involved in it, it has inspired and generated similar art-oriented activities with a message of social justice in other countries faced with post-conflict difficulties or internal violence.

This is the case, for example, of the sculpture Freedom! created under the Shooting Poverty into Art project in one of the most deprived districts of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, by world-renowned artist Mario Benjamin, who has represented his country at Biennials in Venice, Sao Paulo and Johannesburg, in collaboration with sculptors André Eugene, Jean Hérard Céleur and Frantz Jacques Guyodo. It is made out of recycled objects such as metal car parts and raw junk found in the dangerous slums of Port-au-Prince. In 2007, the year when the UK celebrated two hundred years since the abolition of slavery, this sculpture was commissioned by Christian Aid and National Museums Liverpool, in recognition of the fact that Haitian slaves led the world’s first successful slave rebellion and inspired social justice movements around the world, thereby giving a major boost to the UK’s abolitionist movement.

The artists worked alongside young people who are part of APRODIFA, an organisation that provides basic education, runs health clinics and promotes an end to gang violence, with support from Christian Aid. By working on the sculpture, it was hoped that the young people would be given a glimpse of a possible future beyond guns and violence. 

Just as one of the sculptures produced in Mozambique under the TAT project and also commissioned by the British Museum went on a tour of the UK during ‘Africa 2005’, the Freedom! sculpture toured the country in order to spread the messages of freedom, identity, human rights, reparation claims, the dangers of racial discrimination and cultural change.  It returned to Liverpool to remain on permanent display at the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool, which opened on 23rd August 2007.

Another similar initiative was taken by the British Museum with the exhibition of La Bouche du Roi, an artwork by Romuald Hazoumé inviting meditation on all kinds of human greed, exploitation and enslavement, both historical and contemporary. This is a multi-media installation made from a combination of materials, including 304 ‘masks’ made from black petrol cans, spices and audio and video material. A truly profound work, it also marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade and was on a temporary exhibition featured at the British Museum between 22nd March and 13th May 2007.  The artwork also went on tour between 2007 and 2009, which took it to several exhibition venues throughout the United Kingdom, with the objective of touching as many hearts as possible and raising awareness to the problem of modern day slavery persisting in the 21st-century.

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