Art and Human Rights

Art Breath - art and human rights image

Art Breath is a platform that reports, develops and highlights the links and influences between art and culture, with society, philanthropy, economy, technology and politics.

Art Breath founder Nour Saleh studied MSc International Politics at SOAS University of London.

Nour returns to SOAS on 23 January to moderate the talk Art and Human Rights, which will also feature the artist Bob and Roberta Smith; Professor Charles Tripp, Professor of Politics with reference to the Middle East at SOAS; and Professor Stephen Hopgood, Professor of International Relations at SOAS.

She talks about what inspired her to start Art Breath:

Nour Saleh - Art Breath - art and human rights image

What was it that first ignited your own interest in politics?

“I would say a combination of things.  There was an atmosphere at home during my childhood of talking about politics.  Both my parents come from families who were around politics and brought me up with the view that more fairness needed to be instilled in the world.  They are from Lebanon and experienced the Civil War.  After they had settled in London, during the war we went back and forth to Lebanon when we could.  Though we stayed in a safe area, getting there, a few close escapes and the sounds of war stayed with me.  Born and growing up in London, I was interested in British politics and engaged with that at school creating campaign posters with the use of Pop Art paintings for a mock election.  Witnessing my mother start a charity called H.O.P.E, seeing that try to make a difference, made me think that people can create change.”

Why did you choose the MSc in International Politics at SOAS?

“SOAS is a university that looks at instilling into pupils the notion or idea of giving back to the world or to their community.  There is an aura and belief in the corridors and classrooms that it is possible to change the world, and you meet and are surrounded by fellow students and tutors that care and think of others.  Furthermore, any topic studied is looked at from a variety of perspectives.  I was able to study the perspective of the Middle East alongside that of International Politics as well as Sociology, where we discussed the big questions of life that often form a backdrop to politics.”

What was a highlight of the course?

“More than one highlight, but if I had to pick one it was the possibility to engage in conversations.  We had weekly group class discussions with fellow students and our tutors, where we listened to diverse opinions and learnt about different perceptions.”

What inspired you to first start Art Breath?

“When I drew it was a way to relay ideas, political or personal expressions.  It made me realise how the arts could convey important issues and be a tool to express ourselves or discuss certain notions such as identity, politics or culture.  I saw creativity and talking about the arts and politics as paths that could blossom their way into a variety of subjects that could potentially help us in our own lives sail through difficult times, understand different outlooks and things that happen in the world.  Through work experiences and even during my studies, I noticed that we are all often cocooned into our own chosen industry. And unless we have the opportunity to be exposed to a variety of fields, it becomes more difficult to relate to another picture than the one we are being subjected to.  The arts are great instruments to breathe into our lives a variety of ideas and directions.  I wanted to showcase the power of the arts, which when merged with a variety of disciplines, can open up new windows and perspectives.  Having grown up with different cultural influences, it inspired me to display that it is possible to have different branches come together.  The world can unite and there are tools such as creativity that can help us find the way.”

What are the aims of the organisation?

“Art Breath aims to showcase how arts and politics have the potential to unite us all; be a key for understanding, discussion, empathy and diplomacy in society and our lives.  It also encourages and looks at culture and all forms of art as tools of empowerment and peace building.  Art Breath does not focus on one particular geographical area with the objective of highlighting that countries are connected.  The platform wants to bring awareness of the different notions that are affecting us, start a dialogue on ideas and bring attention to issues around the world.  It highlights the many brilliant people, voices, institutions or outlets that help communities, are creative, implement discussion, execute ideas, research important issues or invent new tools.  It hopes to be an arena that inspires people to connect through ideas and art, start a conversation, breathe in culture and create change for good.”

Can you describe the Art and Human Rights talk?

“We don’t always know our Human Rights and many countries do not have any or have very little. In many parts of the world the arts can be a way of proclaiming them.  The event will explore the tool of art for Human Rights and the potential art can have to highlight and protest for Human Rights.  There will be a talk by Professor Charles Tripp on street art and graffiti in the Middle East and North Africa as a vehicle for freedom of expression; a talk by artist Bob and Roberta Smith on his art, activism and the importance of having the arts in education in the UK; and Professor Stephen Hopgood will give an introduction on the general idea of Human Rights.”

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