Selected artworks at our A Canvas of Courage exhibition
Across the world, human rights have been impeded by issues ranging from warfare and authoritarian governments maintaining a tight grip on power. In addition to human and capital damages, we are witnessing cases of media restrictions, arbitrary arrests, and detention of peaceful protestors and activists, as well as routine use of excessive force to crush peaceful assemblies, stifling civilians’ rights and freedom.
In every country and context activists are becoming artists and artists are becoming activists, using their work to highlight oppression, challenge status quo narratives about the civil society, and to centre the lived experiences of those whose basic rights are being challenged or repressed. Our exhibition “A Canvas of Courage - Bridging the dividing world through activist art in support of human rights” brought the work of human rights artists working on these themes together.
More than 60 pieces of artworks from 20 established and emerging artists were featured in our exhibition. Here we have highlighted 10 of the artists and their artworks. A catalog of the artwork available for sale on artvocate can be found here.
1. Jens Galschiøt - Pillar of Shame
Replica sculpture, 1997
Jens Galschiøt was born in 1954, in Frederikssund, Denmark. Galschiøt’s mode of expression mainly consists of naturalistic and organic forms, which are influenced by the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí, and the semi-occult style from the Jugend period. In many of his sculptures “the void‟, is an essential part of his expression.
Internationally, Galschiøt could be characterised as one of the most significant Danish artists of late modernity (after 1980). His artistic output covers a wide field of expression; from jewellery and small fine figures to giant, politically charged sculptures. Jens Galschiøt is the founder of the organisation Aidoh (Art In Defence Of Humanism).
"Pillar of Shame" is part of a series of sculptures by Galschiøt. Each sculpture is an 8-meter tall statue of bronze, copper or concrete. The sculpture was inaugurated at the NGO Forum of the FAO summit in Rome, 1996. Since then three other pillars have been erected: in Hong Kong, Mexico, and Brazil.
It was the only monument in China to commemorate the thousands who died at the Tiananmen Square massacre. It has been seized by police in Hong Kong since 2021. Galschiøt wants to bring it back to Europe. However, self-censorship and fear of Chinese retaliation have made it difficult to hire somebody to do the job. Meanwhile, copies of the sculpture are being 3D-printed all over the world. China took down one Pillar of Shame and got thousands in return.
2. James Earley - War and Conflicts series
Oil on Canvas, 2021
James Earley uses his work to raise awareness of issues such as homelessness, mental health and war. James aims to make the invisible visible, wanting his art to scream and demand attention. James has been described by the German Kunst Heute publication as well as The International Contemporary Art Curators as one of the most significant artists in the world today. Earley has emerged as one of the foremost pioneers of figurative and hyperrealism painting in Britain today, a fact all the more remarkable since Earley is a self taught artist.
In 2019 James was awarded first prize at The prestigious London Biennale, the Giotto International Prize and the Leonardo da Vinci International Prize. Earley was awarded the Venice International Art Prize in 2020 and has been chosen by The European Cultural Centre to exhibit his work at the Venice Biennale 2022.
Three of his artworks from the “War and Conflict” were exhibited in the show. They highlighted the humanitarian crisis and impact to civilians from all ages due to warfare in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen over the last decades, yet still completely relevant to recent conflicts. Realism depiction inspired by magazine covers were infused with subtle references to political and economic motivations for war by the international community. These were contrasted by the strength and beauty of the people impacted.
3. Armin Amirian - selected works from “hICEstory”, “Selsele”, “Abattoir” series
Staged photography, 2012-2017
Armin Amirian (b.1995) is a self-taught artist who spent his childhood and teenage years experiencing different genres and mediums of art while being affected by Iran, the world, family, and culture, and continued his education in Physics.
He has contributed to more than 100 festivals and exhibitions throughout the years and had his latest solo exhibition “hICEstory” (2021) and a previous one named “A’ar” (2018), both at Etemad Gallery. He’s received multiple international awards such as Award of Excellence from Fletcher Art Festival (USA 2020) and Honorable Mention Award of Yeiser Art Center (USA 2020).
His staged photography works aim to use art to describe the peace, beauty, and great feelings in contrast to the pain or bitterness in reality. He uses his work to express the wish for a world without violence and a world where people can enjoy their freedom, while using art as a universal language to start a dialogue with his audiences despite their race, language, and birthplace.
4. Lumli Lumlong - Apple Man
Oil on Canvas, 2023
Born into working-class families, Lumli Lumlong studied fine art together in France for 5 years with very limited financial means. Most of their artwork is oil painting in a grotesque style with a shared aim, revealing social realities. They have published their collection of artwork entitled “Liberation of Art” and “The Hong Kong Metamorphosis”.
They established their own art studio, teaching mainstream students, students with autism, sponsored students and rehabilitated youths and more. They were lecturers of oil-painting at the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. According to Lumli Lumlong, social reality can be more “terrifying” than their artistic creations and compassion is the ultimate expression of one’s imagination.
The artwork was created to honour Jimmy Lai, the media owner of the last standing free media outlet in Hong Kong. Lai has been in prison for the past three years on charges filed under China's sweeping new national security law. If convicted on the charges, Lai could face life in prison.
"Your hands cannot silence my voice
because thoughts have always been free."
5. Sai ████ - Trails of Absence
Fabric installation, 2021
Sai ████ is a Burmese multidisciplinary artist. Sai ████ himself has been in hiding for more than two years and has received numerous warnings that he is being sought by the junta because of his family’s political connections.
His ongoing work follows the political turmoil that has engulfed Myanmar since the coup of 2021 and specifically the trauma inflicted on his own family, exploring the unjust narrative of the relationship between his father, who has been held as a political prisoner by the Burmese junta since the coup, and his mother, who lives under 24 hour surveillance and in constant fear for her own safety.
The concept of his “Trails of Absence” series originated from his plan to take a family portrait. A space with white string was left for his father in the portraits, and their faces are protected by fabric woven in the style of a traditional Shan carpet but created from the clothes of political prisoners abducted by the regime smuggled out from most notorious prisons. Leaving a space for his father in the family portraits, we hold a string between them to represent the attachment between his loved ones and his absence.
This work is dedicated to all political prisoners from Burma and their families.
Born in Johannesburg, Peter moved to the UK in 2018 on an exceptional talent visa and now resides and works in London. Peter travels extensively around the world to find ideas and imagery for his work, collecting patterns that he finds on stone carvings and reliefs on temples, facades and graves.
His artwork is inspired by substantial research on topics and materials ranging from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, motifs from Indian temples and cremation pits, the first world war, Soviet and Russian neo-classical patterns and dead animals found in the Namibian desert.
Mercy Killing depicts a man who has a bullet wound in his forehead, a strangled woman and a small naked child who is being admonished by a general. The pattern includes depictions of a pangolin which is a “living fossil” and acts as a visual metaphor for how things always stay the same no matter how things change. The use of neon colours and pearlescent pigments are to contrast the dark visual themes and show the way that death and war is camouflaged to look appealing.
7. Kausar Iqbal - gun series
Oriental Plane Wood (Carving, pyrography and calligraphy), 2022
Local Wood Shandai in Pashto language (Carving, pyrography), 2020
Kausar Iqbal, originating from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, discovered his desire to paint at a very young age. His conservative and strict upbringing only fueled his ambition to become an artist. He has exhibited his work at numerous galleries across Pakistan and been featured in galleries within the United States. He has incorporated elements from well-known miniature techniques to help establish his own unique style.
Iqbal's Gun Series explores the presence of violence within society. Using guns as a motif, the artist either hides the component in plain sight or covertly to represent the cultural mechanisms of society. Iqbal describes his work as a "realistic visualisation of the truth," commenting on his "traditional background and featuring the practice of arms and ammunition with its negative impacts.
Hubert Bujak, born in 1980, studied at the Faculty of Painting and Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław (2005-2010). His works are the result of many years of searching for his own style within classical disciplines. In his strictly figurative works, the artist uses simple forms, symbols, archetypes and cultural themes. He lives and works in Wrocław.
The term Unknown soldier describes the burial site of the unidentified bodies of soldiers who died during the war, but there is another meaning under this term, namely that the kind of anonymity and collective action that is part of military training and warfare causes a kind of blurring of individuality, soldier it then becomes an ideal tool in the hands of commanders, capable of doing things that it would not normally be able to do. The work is an image of how virulent and brutal human language can be when directed against an ethnic group or minority.
9. Wai Hang SIU 蕭偉恒 - Open Ta Kung Pao
4K Video, 15min, 2018
Wai Hang SIU primarily engages with photography. His work makes use of different methods and photographic principles to express Siu’s solicitude for the society and his contemplation on the medium. Local history threads Siu’s practice and is the vessel through which he uncovers the values of Hong Kong.
Siu was the recipient of the First Price of Hong Kong Photobook Dummy Award 2021, the Hong lKong Human Rights Art Prize (2018) and the WYNG Masters Award (2014 and 2016). His works were collected by The New York Public Library(US), M+ Museum(HK) and private collectors around the world.
Siu created a 15 minute video to show a vast number of demonstrators walking in front of a state-controlled news outlet. Creating a slow and repeating moving image of demonstrators using slit-scan photography, he expressed his frustration that authorities have not been able to address anything which civilians demanded, despite a huge turnout in rallies.
10. Loretta LAU - Question to Heaven
Performance, 2020, Terezín Memorial
Loretta LAU was born in British Hong Kong. Since 2018, she has relocated to Prague to pursue her master’s degree. Art and politics cannot leave Loretta’s life since the start of the Hong Kong Movement in 2019. In May 2021 she became the director of the NGO DEI, a center for Hong Kong art and culture based in the Czech Republic and working among the Hong Kong diaspora in Europe, as well as organizing exhibitions, panel discussions and cultural events.
Her performances are searching the boundaries between political and personal identities, which are exhibited throughout Europe. She was also invited to be one of the speakers in Forum 2000 and reported by several major international press outlets, like Hong Kong Free Press, Sankei Shimbun and The Diplomat.
Question to Heaven took place in Theresienstadt, it was a hybrid concentration camp and ghetto established by the SS during World War II in the fortress town Terezín. About 33,000 people died at the Camp. Through a series of obscure rituals, the performer uses her body gesture and voice to commemorate the people who suffered in genocide. She witnesses the tremendous changes in Hong Kong and holding China accountable is the only way to resist history from repeating itself.