“This is the power of art” -Amnesty International

  • November 18, 2011 12:21 pm

Bari Hochwald, President & Artistic Director 

When the opportunity arose, in the support of the Belarus Free Theatre, for us to take our model of theatrical international engagement and apply it to essential issues such as human rights and free speech, I knew that I wanted to expand the experience by involving an organization that I have respected for years. I am thankful that they immediately understood and embraced what we were doing back in February.  And now, with our upcoming project, we have the opportunity to deepen and expand that relationship in a variety of ways all in one evening.  I am deeply grateful for this and feel sure that, as time goes forward, we will be creating innovative and exciting events together that are creatively, intellectually and spiritually provocative and that engage not only our artists but our audience into a participatory experience such as we will be doing in Association with Amnesty International on December 11th.
We asked Amnesty International Representative Jessica Farley to share why she’s involved with The GTP.
Amnesty International

JF: Amnesty International (AI) was founded 50 years ago to speak on behalf of prisoners of conscience, those who have spoken out and been detained, tortured or killed for their political or personal beliefs. Anna Politkovskaya was a heroic human rights defender and a prisoner of conscience. Her courageous investigative journalism in Russia and Chechnya did what AI activists all hope to do, be a voice for the voiceless and hold people accountable for human rights abuses. It is for this reason she won the 2001 Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism. The Global Theatre Project uses artistic expression to draw awareness to human rights issues around the world, now on behalf of Anna Politkovskaya, and those of us at AI supports this important work on behalf of human rights and are excited about our relationship with The Global Theatre Project. 

Amnesty has maintained a strong relationship with artists because it is easy to make the link between creative expression and freedom of expression. I grew up studying theatre and became a member of AI when I was 14 years old. I am an artist and a human rights activist. So, I know theatre has the potential to create an experience that provides us a deeper understanding of what it means to be human and live in the world. I love that The Global Theatre Project urges us to understand not only some of the darker human experiences that we must not forget, but also offers us the opportunity to be touched by the lives of incredibly courageous people.  

Q: How is Amnesty and The GTP’s work similar and how is it different?

JF: Amnesty and The GTP share underlying values. AI has over 3 million members in 150 countries. I believe most of our members consider themselves to be world citizens. Part of The GTP’s mission is to build and promote creative cross-cultural relationships. AI and The GTP advocate for human rights and global understanding with the participation of an international community. AI members and staff may spend more time writing letters and issuing reports whereas The GTP is primarily an artistic organization, but activism can take many different forms, though our vision for a more humane world is the same.

Q: Why is Anna Politkovskaya’s voice important to be heard?

JF: Amnesty International’s emblem is a glowing candle encased in barbed wire. This symbol represents those that shine a light for others in the darkness. Anna Politkovskaya was, and remains, a light for those in Russia and Chechnya. She sought the truth in the midst of a terrible war and then shared this truth with the world, knowingly risking her life. Human rights abuses are often justified by those who commit them, but Anna Politkovskaya reminds us that such abuses are never justifiable and should never be hidden. Her work is a stand for human dignity and reminds us to have the courage to speak out, even when governments or society would have us stay silent. Her voice reminds us that we are all responsible for each other and have a say in the kind of world we share.

Q: How did you feel after the first read-through of the script?

a theatrical memorandum on Anna Politkovskaya by Stefano Massini

JF: I felt both excited to be part of this project and saddened by the reality exposed. I have heard many stories about human rights abuses, often first-hand. It is never easy. The script is moving and evocative. It gives us a glimpse of what Anna Politkovskaya’s life was like, what she discovered and the challenges she faced. This is the power of art. It brings things to life. The script brings Anna Politkovskaya to life along with those who were victims in the war between Russia and Chechnya; this is difficult to experience, but I feel it makes us better people.

Q: What about the panel interests you the most?

JF: We live in strange times. Amnesty has worked on many human rights abuses in the USA and abroad. However, we have the freedom to host a panel on human rights, and not everyone does. I am interested in the expert voices on the panel and the diverse perspectives they will bring to this discussion about freedom. I am interested to hear the questions from the audience because I imagine everyone attending will be part of a community interested in expression and humanity. 

Q: Can you please describe an Amnesty Action?

JF: Amnesty members spend a lot of time writing to oppressive governments and authorities who are able to directly make a difference for those suffering human rights abuses. We write on behalf of specific individuals or groups advocating for human rights to be upheld. It might be hard to imagine that such action would have an impact, but it does. Prisoners are often released or we receive information that their treatment has improved. We keep in touch with many former prisoners of conscience and they tell us our support gave them hope when they were alone in a cell or that their interrogators specifically mentioned calls, letters and campaigns by Amnesty International before their release. Our work shows human rights abusers that the world is watching. 

Our Amnesty action on December 11th will be for Majid Tavakkoli. Majid was studying ship building in Iran when he was imprisoned for giving a speech at his university criticizing the Iranian government in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential election. His charges included “participating in an illegal gathering” and “insulting officials”. He has been sentenced to serve more than eight years in prison. He is a prisoner of conscience who was jailed simply for expressing his opinion. Majid will be part of our Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon where we will join thousand of people around the world and call on the Iranian government to uphold human rights and free Majid Tavakkoli.

Especially Now: Create the World Together

  • October 24, 2011 5:52 pm

In thinking about a name for our upcoming event the questions associated with so many aspects of our work kept coming into play.  Why are we delving deeply into the development of new creative work at a time like this?   How can we put a focus on issues abroad to Americans at a time like this? How can we possibly hold a fundraiser at a time like this?

The answer, of course, is obvious.  It is Especially Now that we should be doing the work we are doing.  It is Especially Now that we need to build the most responsive, innovative, visionary and positive cultural organization we can possibly imagine.

Thus, the name of the event came easily.

But this event brought on deeper contemplations for me than assigning it a title.  It made me think about our work in general.  I do see, of course, that The Global Theatre Project is an extension of my own experience of life.  It is my response to the world I see around me and so it is subject to those responses.  In many ways it is a living thing.  So what is it that I see? A world in dark transition struggling to find its light.  It is a real struggle.  Played out now in almost every country around the globe.

And the only way I believe we will achieve moving through struggle to real peace is through experiencing and understanding our commonality.  Then we can move forward.

As I mentioned in my last post, I recognize my ‘naive’ perspective on solving conflicting global issues through theatre.  My perspective on life in general has been called very ‘American’ from time to time by some of my international colleagues.  Of course I am aware that there are complex challenges and systems, structures and cultural divides (as well as economic, social, political, etc. etc.) that we hold as reasons for the tensions and conflicts which are becoming more and more articulated.

But, at the same time.  I recognize that there are more and more people around the world who are reaching across those divides in spite of the complex challenges.  They are motivated by one thing.  Human connection.  Because once you make that connection. . .once you see yourself in that other person or people. . . you create possibility for change. 

In our work it is important that we always celebrate our connection.  Even when we are addressing difficult issues, such as we will do on December 11th.  It is the process of exposing what is, breathing life into it through communal and public experience and moving forward armed with an awareness that can no longer be ignored that interests me.  How can theatre and all the aspects around creating it do this?  And how can it do it better and better?  How can we take this evening and apply as many prisms to the experience for our participants and our audience as we possibly can?

These are my questions.

Because, to me, it is Especially Now that we must focus on how we can Create the World Together.