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Dialogues on Being Human: The Intersections of Art, Health and Dignity

Pablo Helguera

Hosted in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Artsy and Art to Zebras

Artist PABLO HELGUERA shares his work in dialogue with ALICIA ELY YAMIN, discussing multidimensional perspectives on borders, migration, immigration, and national identity in Artsy in New York, NY on April 9, 2018.

Photo by Pablo Helguera

Pablo Helguera is a Mexican artist based in New York City, widely known for his socially engaged art including the monumental and heroic project, the School of Panamerican Unrest – a 20,000 mile journey across the Americas undertaken in 2006 with a mobile schoolhouse as a platform for collective learning in community-specific participatory workshops. Almost a romantic action in search of a lost utopia, “to understand how the American ideals of peace, brotherhood, and unity had evolved to a project of global hegemony…”. Helguera began and ended the trip with visits to the last living speakers of an indigenous language. The artist took on the role of moderator, educator, activist, therapist, journalist, listener and activator of conversations and debates, to draw connections between a vast diversity of cultural communities.

Helguera’s Librería Donceles, is an itinerant Spanish-language second-hand bookstore art project, travelling throughout cities in the US to promote Spanish-language culture. In 2013, Helguera organized a book donation campaign in Mexico City, resulting in people from all over the country- pained by the plight of immigrants in the United States -donating 20,000 volumes. Since first installed in New York City, the bookstore has visited 7 other US cities, hosting a series of bilingual salon-like events, creating a social space and meeting place for the community.

La Austral, S.A. de C.V. – opening April 11th at El Museo de los Sures, Williamsburg, is a socially engaged project that incorporates storytelling to sensitize the public about the plight of the Dreamers, a term that refers to undocumented immigrants who arrived to the United States as children and are currently protected under the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). It will function as an open storytelling center, where visitors can access free stories told live by Dreamers and other immigrants. This project has been sponsored by the International Studio and Curatorial Program (ISCP).

Pablo Helguera attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, working in the museum education department while earning his B.F.A. Helguera has held significant positions in museum education ever since, pedagogy being an important part of his artistic practice. He has performed and exhibited extensively throughout Europe and the Americas, including at the Museum of Modern Art, NY; Museo de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Bronx Museum of the Arts, NY; Brooklyn Museum, NY; and the Guggenheim Museum, NY. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including from Creative Capital, the Rockefeller Foundation/Fideicomiso para la Cultura Mexico, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He was also the recipient of the First International Award for Participatory Art, created by the Emilia-Romagna Regional government in Italy.

“Librería Donceles is the University for those who couldn’t attend one… it is a cultural parenthesis in another language; it is the living room in an immigrant’s mind.” Pablo Helguera

a yellow tent in front of a tan buildingimages from Pablo Helguera’s The School of Panamerican Unrest, 2006 a road trip from Alaska to Argentina with a mobile schoolhouse.

Wangechi Mutu

Hosted in partnership with the Office of the Provost, the School of Foreign Service, and the Department of Art and Art History at Georgetown University.

Renowned Kenyan-born contemporary artist Wangechi Mutu was invited to screen her animated video, The end of Carrying All and to speak on the themes she explores in her artwork, including ideas of desire, gender, race, cultural trauma and environmental destruction. Wangechi was joined by Alicia Ely Yamin, for a dialogue discussion, bringing a multidimensional perspective to the topics.

Through her collage-paintings, sculpture, installation, film work and performance, Wangechi Mutu recasts female stereotypes, and questions cultural identity and perceptions. Her work touches on the complications of being, and how the physical body plays a significant role in determining experiences, survival, and the ability to understand what that is.

Mutu’s works are centered on imagery of the female body underscoring how it can act as a measuring device of any society’s well being. She observes, “Females carry the marks, language and nuances of their culture more than the male. Anything that is desired or despised is always placed on the female body”. She plays the main character in her animated film, The End of carrying All which follows a woman’s journey across a landscape, carrying a large basket on her head filled to the brim, as many African women still do on a daily basis to feed their families. Mutu says, “My films provide a way for me to enact, represent, what I empathize and value about women. In performing, I’m present, I’m there, alive and captured in time and movement.” With every step, the woman’s basket is increasingly filling up with more goods and manufactured objects, including buildings, a bicycle wheel, a satellite dish, a tower, and an oil rig. Eventually, it feels as though the woman is carrying the burdens of all of humanity, our desires and insatiable materialism. She buckles under the weight, eventually disappearing, as this bulge too becomes re-absorbed into the earth. An eruption follows, rumbling under the earth, erasing any trace of the woman and her toil. All is quiet, and as if nothing had ever happened, the whole journey begins again.

Mutu was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and lives and works in New York and Nairobi. Her own diverse history – she has studied both anthropology and sculpture and has lived in Nairobi, Wales, and in the US – has given her a unique cross-cultural perspective that informs her work. She holds an MFA from Yale, and her work has been exhibited in a host of major institutions and museums worldwide.

“Art allows you to imbue the truth with a sort of magic…so it infiltrates the psyches of more people, including those who don’t believe the same things as you.” Wangechi Mutu

still from The End of carrying All showing a woman carrying materials with a sunset behind herWangechi Mutu, stills from The End of carrying All, 2015 — 3 Screen Animated Video (color, sound) 9 minutes 27 seconds loop, Edition of 3, Courtesy of the Artist, Gladstone Gallery New York and Brussels, Susanne Vietmetter Los Angeles Projects, and Victoria Miro London.

Jesse Krimes

Hosted in partnership with the Prisons and Justice Initiative, the Office of the Provost and the Department of Art and Art History at Georgetown University

Jesse Krimes with his work ApokalupteinJesse Krimes with his work Apokaluptein 1638067 (The title combines the Greek root of the word “apocalypse,” or “redemption,” and Federal Bureau of Prisons ID number) a 15 foot high x 40 foot wide, 39-panel mural on prison bed sheets, created over 3 years, smuggled out, and pieced together when he was released.

In February 2017, the Health and Human Rights Initiative invited artist Jesse Krimes to speak on the themes which permeate his artwork, including the dehumanizing aspects of incarceration and the Criminal Justice System. He was joined by Alicia Ely Yamin, and Marc Howard, Director of the Prisons and Justice Initiative for a dialogue discussion, bringing a multidimensional perspective to the topics.

Artist Jesse Krimes conveys the dehumanizing experience of incarceration through a compelling body of work clandestinely produced over 6 years in jail while serving time for a non-violent drug offense. Surviving his odyssey through the criminal justice system by producing art, Jesse’s work embodies themes of alienation, purification, redemption, social stratification and power.

Arrested one month after graduating from art school, federal government guidelines and prosecutorial pressure resulted in a sentencing of 10 years to life. Jesse’s prison work varies greatly and reflects his different confinement experiences. While isolated for one year in a 23-hour maximum-security cell, Jesse created 292 separate portraits of other offenders on slivers of prison-issued bars of soap.

Although Jesse’s sentencing judge recommended a low security facility close to his home in Lancaster Pa, the bureau of prisons housed him in the maximum-security ward a Buttner NC penitentiary. Here, Jesse spent his days drawing in his cell, and soon other inmates came asking him for portraits. Artists, he says, “are the only individuals who can make something tangible to send to loved ones. But the artwork and the resulting conversations also humanized them to me and me to them.”

After this year Jesse was transferred to a medium-security facility in Fairton, New Jersey, where he spent twelve-hour days for three years working on his largest work, Apokaluptein. Using prison bed sheets obtained from a friend in the laundry in exchange for stamps, Jesse transferred images from newspapers with hair gel ink, then adding his own figures as overlay. Each sheet was then smuggled out. “I never saw the entire piece together until I was released. I just kept the overall image in my head.”

“Everything about the federal prison system is designed to grind you into hopelessness.” Art helped him survive.

Jesse Krimes Purgatory transfers on prison soaps smuggled out in used decks of cards Jesse Krimes Purgatory transfers on prison soaps smuggled out in used decks of cardsimages of Jesse Krimes Purgatory transfers on prison soaps smuggled out in used decks of cards


An Installation by Jesse Krimes
In conjunction with the Art Dialogue, there was an exhibition of Jesse Krimes work, “Purgatory” at the Georgetown University Art and Art History Department’s Spagnuolo Gallery from February 1- March 26, 2017

Moderator, Dialogues Series: Alicia Ely Yamin

Alicia Ely Yamin is a Visiting Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center and the Program Director of the Health and Human Rights Initiative. She is also an Adjunct Lecturer on Law and Global Health at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and a founding Global Fellow at the Center on Law and Social Transformation in Norway. In 2016, the UN Secretary General appointed Yamin to the Independent Accountability Panel for the Global Strategy on Women’s, Children’s and Adolecents’ Health (EWEC). Trained in both law and public health at Harvard, Yamin’s 20-year career at the intersection of health and human rights has bridged academia and activism. She has published dozens of law journals, as well as peer-reviewed public health articles, in English and Spanish, in addition to several books. Prior to joining Georgetown, Alicia was at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, and the Director of the JD /MPH Program, as well as the Policy Director at the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard. From 2007 to 2011, Yamin held the prestigious Joseph H. Flom Fellowship on Global Health and Human Rights at Harvard Law School. Prior to that, she served as Director of Research and Investigations at Physicians for Human Rights, where she oversaw all of the organization’s field investigations, and was on the faculty of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University from 1969-2002. Yamin was also a member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Economic and Social Rights for 15 years and the Chair from 2009-2014.

Curator, Dialogues Series: Anita Alvin Nilert

Anita Alvin Nilert is the founder of Art to Zebras, focused on raising awareness about global human rights issues through contemporary arts initiatives. With a 25+ year career in the international art world including as consultant, editions publisher, curator and artists’ agent, Anita speaks seven languages, and is a graduate of the Georgetown School of Foreign Service with an MBA from Columbia University. She advises the NGO Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security (WCAPS) on their art initiatives and serves on the boards of Konstig Books – Scandinavia’s leading art bookseller, alt_break art fair for social justice – providing contemporary art programming through partnerships with nonprofits, and of the Hans von Kantzow Foundation – which funds research and advances in medicine, and supports global health initiatives.