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DUT: Tackling human right issues through art

DUT: Tackling human right issues through art


Artist Jan Jordaan has elevated art to another level by using it to communicate human rights issues to policy makers in society.

Jordaan lectures in Fine Art on the City campus of the Durban University of Technology (DUT). He strongly believes that inviting government officials to art exhibition openings is the right tool to target them to convey a message about human rights issues affecting ordinary people.

He is working around the clock to promote the art of his students and counterparts in various ways including publishing them in books, promoting the art as cultural heritage through ensuring that they become part of the permanent collection of various museums nationally and internationally, including the Durban Art Gallery and the Museum for Modern Art in New York.

“It’s the highest accolade now that Museum for Modern Art included work which is also in the DUT collection. DUT is now also represented in a number of internationally recognized museums,” comments Jordaan. He is excited that DUT has fulfilled its role of being a leader in Africa in this respect.

What reinforces the human rights aspect, says Jordaan, was the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights – International Print Portfolio’, commemorating its 40th anniversary in 1998, in which artists from 30 countries including some African countries that have suffered gross violation of human rights, contributed work to. The human rights collection of art is also housed in the United Nations in Geneva, Michigan State University, the Durban Art Gallery and DUT, amongst others. In 2007 the collection was acquired by Guernica Peace Museum in Spain. The original catalogue to the collection have since been republished by the Peace Museum on this project and translated into Basque, Spanish and French. This work which originated from DUT, was published by Art for Humanity, the research unit affiliated with the Department of Fine Art is now widely accessible to a worldwide audience.

In 2000 the “Break the Silence” art portfolio was launched at DUT. The murals outside of the S-Blocks at DUT’s Steve Biko campus facing Berea road is from this collection, which are now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art New York. The portfolio is also in the permanent collection of the DUT. This has now been registered as a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) for Art for Humanity. It has a Board of Trustees comprising remarkable experts from academia, industry and the public sector. All the ‘Break the Silence’ works has been published in a book. He believes firmly in the professional empowerment of artists as one of his graduates Gabisile Nkosi who took part in the ‘Break the Silence’ project had her artwork displayed on street billboards in Umlazi, south of Durban. Her work is now being exhibited in locally and internationally.

Emphasising the human rights issue Jordaan has also published a book on “Women for Children” which is currently in exhibition in Bloemfontein and will later be exhibited Cape Town, Berlin and Bremen, Germany. This book has been made available to in schools in KZN and the artwork from the various projects will be on display in schools in Durban and surrounding areas to raise awareness about children’s rights and welfare. It contains artworks and poetry from the “Women for Children” project.

‘The art will allow for the children to live and play within an environment which will inspire them with the values associated with good art,” says Jordaan. He adds that teachers are trained to conduct workshops for children on using the art to promote human rights awareness within the learners. “It’s up to the ordinary people to make things happen. Artists represent the voice of their communities through their work,” says Jordaan. He concludes that “the work of an artist is the same as that of a journalist they are both dependent on the freedom of expression”.

For more information contact Jan Jordaan on 031 373 6689/031 373 6610.