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2019 Global Citizenship Review
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Global Citizenship
Pro Bono

Expressing the inexpressible

An exhibition during the 2019 Venice Art Biennale uses art to promote healing and prevent future genocide

Longstanding pro bono client the Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities (AIPG) opened its first major international event for the general public—Artivism: The Atrocity Prevention Pavilion—during the 2019 Venice Art Biennale.

Each artist is using art to return to victims of genocide or mass atrocity crimes some measure of the humanity taken from them when the crimes were committed—a form of transitional justice that can be used to reduce the likelihood of future mass atrocity outbreaks.

Owen Pell, partner, New York

New York partner Owen Pell, President of the Auschwitz Institute, was instrumental in the multi-year realization of this project with Tibi Galis, the Institute’s Executive Director. White & Case was a sponsor.

Artivism highlights the work of six artists and art collectives who use art to respond to genocide or mass atrocity crimes and their continuing effects. The works explore very different historical and political realities from Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Indonesia, the Kurdish region of Iraq and South Africa.

Since 2008, the AIPG has trained more than 5,200 government officials from more than 85 countries in how to prevent genocide and mass atrocity outbreaks. “Based on the Institute’s work, Venice Art Biennale organizers approached us about creating a human rights pavilion,” said Owen. “We chose ‘artivism,’ the concept of art that actively addresses a human rights issue. Each artist is using art to return to victims of genocide or mass atrocity crimes some measure of the humanity taken from them when the crimes were committed—a form of transitional justice that can be used to reduce the likelihood of future mass atrocity outbreaks.”

The pavilion featured a display by Bosnian-American artist Aida Šehović of more than 7,500 coffee cups collected from families of the 8,373 men and boys massacred at Srebrenica. Each year, on the anniversary of the 1995 genocide, Aida performs a ritual in a different city of setting out all the cups in a public square and engaging passers-by to help her fill them with coffee as a memorial to the men. She performed this year in Venice.

The last room of the pavilion offered ideas for visitors to take personal action, and featured the work of several nonprofit organizations including AIPG and pro bono client Child Rights International Network (CRIN).

The opening events of the exhibition vastly exceeded its organizers' expectations, with more than 800 people attending, including the ambassadors to Italy from Canada, Australia, Germany and South Africa, as well as the German Foreign Minister. The pavilion ultimately saw more than 10,000 visitors.

Milan partner Ferigo Foscari, who co-hosted the opening night reception with Owen on behalf of White & Case and helped organize the Firm’s support in Venice, commented: “The pavilion’s reception demonstrates a strong understanding of the importance of the issue among international and local audiences. It was a very powerful exhibition on the world stage for the same duration of the 2019 Art Biennale, and there was immediate interest in showing it elsewhere in the future.”

Image: // A Srebrenica massacre widow holds a photograph
of her husband. © Amy Toensing / NatGeo

 

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