UNC to Host “This Art Belongs to the Artist: Art as Human Rights” Exhibition & Symposium

April 1, 2024

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is set to host a groundbreaking event exploring the intersection of art, law, and human rights on April 12. “This Art Belongs to the Artist: Art as Human Rights” is a collaborative effort between Carolina Law and the Department of Art & Art History, featuring an exhibition of art created by men imprisoned at the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp (GBDC) and a symposium with a diverse lineup of speakers. 

The exhibition, held at the Hanes Art Center Gallery, will showcase the powerful and thought-provoking artwork of GBDC detainees. The reception for the exhibition will take place on April 12 from 2 – 3 p.m. in the Hanes Art Center Gallery, followed by the symposium from 3 – 7 p.m. in the Center’s Auditorium, room 121, and will be available to view via Zoom

Abdualmalik Abud Untitled (Walled City) 2015
Colored pencil on paper

The symposium will delve into the ongoing impact of state violence and the consequences of the extralegal prison at GBDC through the framework of art and law. Speakers will address the sovereign, political, and legal dimensions of detainee art, comment on the inter-related international law issues, and discuss the paradox within claims to human rights with a focus on art and the rights of detainees to own and control their creative work. 

“We organized this symposium in the spirit of the Guantánamo artists’ affirmation: ‘We wanted everyone to see this art, see its beauty. We wanted them to see how we used our artwork to fight injustice,'” said Professor Hồng-Ân Trương from the UNC Department of Art & Art History and Professor Deborah M. Weissman from the UNC School of Law. 

The event will kick off with an introduction by William Rand Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor, Dean Martin H. Brinkley of the School of Law. The first panel, “History Lessons: The Road Starts Here,” will be presented by Christina Cowger of NC Stop Torture Now and Louis A. Pérez, J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor UNC Department of History, who will provide an overview of the historical circumstances that led to U.S. control of the Naval Station in Guantánamo and North Carolina’s role in the U.S. program of extraordinary rendition and torture. 

Mansoor Adayfi Untitled (Clouds over Water) 2016
Oil pastel on paper

The second panel, “This Art Belongs to the Artist,” will bring together several former detainees and survivors of GBDC, along with treasurer Mark Maher of Healing and Recovery After Trauma, and human rights scholar Alexandra Moore, to share stories of art-making as a form of protest and a necessary process for survival. Among the speakers are former Guantánamo Bay detention camp prisoners: Mansoor Adayfi, a writer; Ahmed Rabbani, an artist formerly known as prisoner 1461; and Sabri Al Qurashi, also an artist. Note that none of these detainees have been formally charged with a crime. Although not present at the panel, the voice of Moath al-Alwi, who has been detained at GBDC for over 19 years without charge, will be shared through Professor Moore’s reading of a chapter from a book, The Guantánamo Artwork and the Testimony of Moath al-Alwi, written during his ongoing imprisonment. 

Muhammad Ansi
Untitled (Shore with Stormy Waves and Cliff) 2016
Acrylic on paper

The keynote address will be delivered by Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Regents Professor at the University of Minnesota Law School and former UN Special Rapporteur Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights from 2017-2023. Her talk, titled “You Came too Late”: Reflection on the First UN Visit to the Detention Facility at Guantánamo Bay, promises to be a thought-provoking highlight of the event. 

The final panel, “Social Action, Law & Art,” featuring Amber Ginsburg of the University of Chicago, will explore the connections between art, liberation, and abolition, and the growing interdisciplinary work of artists using their practices as tools towards justice and abolition. 

This event has been generously supported by a wide range of UNC departments and organizations, including the UNC School of Law, Institute for the Study of the Americas, College of Arts and Sciences, Institute for Arts and Humanities, Art Department, Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies, Center for European Studies, Asian American Center, Beth D Jacob/Healing and Recovery After Trauma, Department of History, Department of Communications, Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies, Department of Women & Gender Studies, NC Stop Torture Now, Sociology Department, Department of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, and the Department of Romance Studies

Moath al-Alwi Untitled (Model Gondola) 2016
Mixed media sculpture (cardboard, plastic, sponge, acrylic paint)

For more information about the event, please contact organizers Deborah M. Weissman at weissman@email.unc.edu -or Hồng-Ân Trương at hatruong@email.unc.edu