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AHRT History

History of the association of human rights activists and artists in Durban and KwaZulul Natal which led to the establishment of the "Artists for Human Rights Trust" in March1998.

Updated  August 2016

The first seed for what was to become the Artists for Human Rights Trust germinated in an innovative collaborative project involving artists and human rights activists in KwaZulu/Natal. The prime movers behind the project were Coral Vinsen then a member of the Black Sash and the Durban Detainees Support Committee, and Lorna Ferguson, also of the Black Sash and then curator of the Tatham Art Gallery in Pietermaritzburg. Their aim was to mark the 40th anniversary (on the 10th December 1988) of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly. To this end, a meeting was held early in 1988 to plan an art project to celebrate this special anniversary. As a result, the "Artists for Human Rights" committee was formed, and two events planned to take place on the 10th December 1988 (International Human Rights Day) at the Durban Exhibition Centre. The first of the two events was an interactive art and human rights workshop for 400 teenagers of all race groups held on the morning of the 10th December. The second event organized by the committee, and. held in the afternoon of the same day, was an exhibition of the entries from the national art and photographic competition "Celebrating Human Rights". The keynote speaker: at the opening of the exhibition was Professor Hugh Corder of the Department of Public Law at the University of Cape Town. The Nationalist Party- led S.A. Government in 1948 had declined to sign the UDHR, so when these events took place forty years later, apartheid was firmly entrenched in South Africa. This project was therefore intended to show that there were many South Africans who did not subscribe to the racist policies of their government, and instead wished to contribute to a society in which the rights of all were respected and upheld.

Selected artworks created by the young people at the workshop, were framed and hung two years later by Beryl Brink of Grassroots Gallery, for an exhibition on International Human Rights Day 1990. Professor Kader Asmal delivered the keynote address and opened the exhibition. In subsequent years in collaboration with the Durban Art Gallery and the Centre for Socio Legal Studies, Coral Vinsen organized AIDS awareness and human rights art exhibitions involving school children for AHR.

In 1996, when South Africa was formulating its own Bill of Rights, a committee convened by Coral Vinsen produced a limited edition print portfolio "Images of Human Rights". Terry Anne Stevenson had suggested the concept of a print portfolio and introduced master printer Jan Jordaan of the Fine Art Department of the Technikon Natal, who agreed to join the committee and subsequently, single-handedly printed every work.  Each of the 50 portfolios comprises 29 black and white relief prints, each print depicting one of the clauses of South Africa's new Bill of Rights. The beautiful images were created by diverse artists selected by regional art galleries and represented the nine provinces of South Africa.   Judge Albie Sachs of the Constitutional Court opened the exhibition of the prints at the Durban Art Gallery on 10th December 1996.  Funds raised by the sale of the portfolios are channeled to the "Artists for Human Rights Trust", which is a legally constituted body, registered in March 1998, under whose aegis various art and human rights and arts-related projects are organized and funded.

In 1998 to celebrate the- 50th anniversary of the UDHR, three projects under the AHRT banner were organized. "Wearable Rights" convened by Coral Vinsen was a human rights project involving children from diverse backgrounds, disadvantaged artists and established artists, who were each given a T-shirt to decorate, using a human rights theme. Two information and skills-sharing workshops for the participants were held in the Design Department of the M.L. Sultan Technikon. The imaginative T-shirts produced were exhibited on 16th June 1998 at the Natal Society of Artists Gallery.

The second project arranged to mark this special anniversary was the KwaZulu/Natal Human Rights Art exhibition, that opened at the Durban Art Gallery on National Human Rights Day 1999.  Dr Sabine Marschall of the University of Durban-Westville and Mr John Roome of Technikon Natal jointly convened this collection of diverse art works by regional artists.

The third project was the ambitious International Print Portfolio project, which invited artists from countries that have suffered grave human rights abuses, to each create an image of one of the articles of the UDHR.  Mr Jan Jordaan of the Department of Fine Arts at the Technikon Natal and Mr Vedant Nanackchand of the Fine Arts Department at the University of Durban-Westville jointly convened this global project. The exhibition of the prints opened at the Durban Art Gallery on 10th December 1999.

 The Trust envisages extending its sponsorship of artists concerned with human rights issues into the millenium.

The present trustees of the Artists for Human Rights Trust are:

Chairperson: Professor David McQuoid Mason
Administrator: Ms Anthea Martin, Durban
Trustees: Mr Themba Shibase,Ms Coral Vinsen, Ms Joan Deare


 The aims of the Artists for Human Rights Trust are:

  • + the promotion and development of local artists and the encouragement of local artistic talent in South Africa. 
  • + to use the arts to assist in the creation of a human rights culture and in human rights education in South Africa.



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