Art for the release of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
In September, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) and the National Art Academy of Fine Arts Oslo (KHIO) jointly kicked off an art project with focus on the political prisoners in Azerbaijan. More than 80 political prisoners are now behind bars in the country, many of which were arrested while Azerbaijan was chairing the Council of Europe.
The art project has an activist profile in the sense that it is linked to NHCs ambitious campaign to free all political prisoners in Europe. The initiative is included in the curriculum for the fall semester 2015 of the National Academy of Fine Arts.
The essence of the project is that students, through workshops are presented with information about the situation for political prisoners in Azerbaijan, and then are challenged to draw the prisoners, using their individual expression and the techniques of their choice. It is often stated that “to draw is to see”. The project was inspired by the idea that to draw the political prisoners can be a way to engage, in itself represent an act of solidarity, and that the drawings can make visible people that the regime in Azerbaijan seeks to hide or create a false image of.
During the workshops the students have met with activists from Azerbaijan, including a former political prisoner and a relative of political prisoners, as well as artists in Norway with experience with “political” art or with making portraits. The students are challenged to reflect upon what it means to draw/portray another person and upon the relationship between art, politics and freedom of speech as well as to investigate drawing as a political tool.
The artworks will be displayed in 2015 - 2016 in various cities of Europe, in exhibitions, social media and in campaign materials. The idea is to present the works in venues where they will be seen by decision makers, but also to reach a more general public for engagement to maintain pressure on the government of Azerbaijan to release all remaining political prisoners.
A final exhibition will be showed at Akershus Kunstsenter from September 16 – October 16 2016.
A new website dedicated to the political prisoners in Europe, with a special focus on Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia was presented during the gathering at the Art Academy. The website, which is supported by Fritt Ord and NHC, is an online source about the political prisoners currently behind bars, the criminal cases against them, the activities for their release and the general politically motivated prosecutions in those countries. Click here to visit nopoliticalprisoners.org