Anna Landreneau, SMU Amnesty International (AI) Vice President and Cox School of Business student, and two of the participating artists, Hannah Aaron and Thania McElroy for Art for Human Rights 2017 agreed to an interview for the Hamon blog about this event, which takes place in Meadows Doolin Gallery, on Saturday, April 22nd.

Anna Landreneau

Anna, please tell our readers about this event and how it got started?

The idea for the art exhibition fundraiser was first brought up at a kick-off meeting by AI’s former President at SMU. For this event, we bring in student and local artists who provide artwork covering human rights issues they care about. Some pieces are up for auction and all proceeds from sold artwork, as well as free donation at the event, go toward a nonprofit of AI’s choosing. The event is unique in that it holds both an essential awareness aspect to it and also that it creates a tangible benefit to the featured nonprofit. It’s really wonderful to see the artists come in and shed light on human rights topics that they care about and we may not think about every day.

 What is the Aleppo Project?

The Aleppo Project is a fantastic project running out of Central European University. The project’s focus is early crisis intervention, and most of their research and funds go toward planning the reconstruction of the city of Aleppo after the conflict ends. Those involved in the project include academics, engineers, and project managers, all volunteering their time to help with the planning as well as other initiatives that aid displaced Aleppians. They spend much of their time interviewing refugees to learn about the city’s infrastructure, architecture, and layout (including significant community and cultural centers). Other initiatives vary from supplying people at global think tanks focused on bringing the conflict to an end to providing therapy for displaced Syrians. The proceeds from our fundraiser will support The Aleppo Project’s initiative to match refugees with educational and work opportunities.

What is most admirable about this project is that, I feel, it creates a standard for preparing for humanitarian crises. Many cities torn apart by war are often left desolate because the resources to rebuild just aren’t available. Furthermore, projections for many upcoming humanitarian crises already exist (e.g. upcoming droughts and likely resulting famines) but the sense of urgency isn’t present. Due to lack of early funding and preparation, there is more damage that could have been mitigated. The Aleppo Project is taking early steps toward rebuilding a great commercial and cultural center of Syria in the hopes that displaced people may some day have the chance to return home.

Anything else you wish to share about this event with our readers?

 SMU Amnesty International is very happy that this semester we are partnering with a fellow humanitarian organization on campus, Liberty in North Korea. We hope that our joint efforts will bring in in more visitors and make the event the best it can be!

Hannah Aaron

How are you participating in Art for Human Rights, 2017?

 I am donating and lending a few of my paintings for the exhibition.

Tell us about the work you donated or loaned to this event and how it relates to a particular human rights cause.

 My work primarily deals with identity through a metaphysical understanding and the resulting perspective, because of the spiritual experience. Often, we identify with skin color, gender, sexual orientation, and occupation, and have a somewhat limited view point of the world around us, because of the various backgrounds that color the lens we view life. But when we can identify with a Godly perspective, we can see people for their created value, and not by their appearance or actions. We can see people with value, purpose, and love. In a general sense, my work is related to the driving force behind human rights. The motives for human rights stem the idea of value, and freedom. I choose to portray these ideas through a narrative in my piece Seeing the Unseen. In this piece, I painted two sisters – one can see while the other one’s view is obstructed by abstractions. The figure on the left can see past her sister’s flaws, and into her potential. The figure on the left also chooses to see her sister’s potential, despite the sister’s clouded vision. I painted this around the election last year, because of the tension a lot of people felt, recalling also, the years prior when some of my family members moved out of the country, for political reasons. This is just a narrative of the way a spiritual outlook can change the way we see people who don’t see us correctly.

The smaller abstractions I have painted are personal responses to metaphysical experiences. Instead of painting a narrative, I am painting my response and the “fruit” in which my life bears, because of my spiritual experiences.

Anything else you wish to share about this event with our readers?

 I am excited and humbled to be a part of Art for Human Rights, 2017. The Aleppo Project is a beautiful response to a horrible tragedy that I feel we could all give to and learn from. Anna Landreneau has an amazingly generous heart and I am thrilled to partner with her in this event.

Thania McElroy

How are you participating in Art for Human Rights, 2017?

 I came across the open call for artists online. I have always been passionate about our race and all the global issues that concern us, especially when society is not offering any growth. For example, in the past, I was lucky enough to be a part of an outreach program called “Pueblo Sin Fronteras” as the director of an art program for young adults in the latino community.

Regarding Syria, I feel our society is totally disconnected with what is happening in reality, and I felt I needed to bring awareness, not just to the war itself but also so that people could better understand the situation that the refugees go through.

Tell us about the work you donated or loaned to this event and how it relates to a particular human rights cause.

My painting, Same at Heart, represents the way the human body will adapt to someone else’s organ without discrimination, so that two different races with totally different backgrounds can be fully compatible when it comes to an organ transplant. This piece was inspired by my brother Saul who gives his soul and his heart to everything even when things seem like they can’t go any further. Saul was not allowed to return to the US after coming back from a vacation, though he had been living here for 20 years. Months later, I got a call from an institution saying that someone in the US needed his bone marrow and that he was the only match. However, the law does not allow someone to enter the country just to donate. It caused me to question why the law can’t allow a human to save another human, whether or not the other person would survive, and also what race the other person was.

My painting, Fire and Butterfly Woman, is dedicated to the sensuality, the empowerment, and the freedom of the women of Rajava in the Northern region of Syria. Their experience in society is quite different from what one would expect. They have committees to deal with health, education, finances, and conflict resolution, including domestic violence. If they are unable to resolve a matter, the case is referred to the women-only Asayiş, or police force. In cases of domestic and sexual violence, if the courts rule that the perpetrator must be imprisoned, he is taken away, given gender equality training, and returned to the home– but only if the woman wants him back and he appears to have reformed.

And finally, my painting, The Birds will Sing Again, is dedicated to all of the war refugees in the world who are experiencing the rejection from the refuge of another country. It depicts a mutated butterfly and addresses the chemical attacks in Syria. If chlorine gas is released into the atmosphere, what luck do the women and children there have to breathe? Birds and butterflies can migrate safely, and people have that right too.

Anything else you wish to share about this event with our readers?

Nothing really, just that any small action can signify a lot to others.


Feature image: Seeing the Unseen; courtesy of artist, Hannah Aaron.
Thank you to Anna Landreneau, Hannah Aaron, and Thania McElroy for these interviews.