HEROES OF OUR TIME

 

‘An artist job is to be a witness of their time in history’ is what Robert Rauschenberg said and I agree.

 

What strikes me most in our time, is that no matter how ‘advanced’ things are getting, there is still so much misery and injustice in the world, and that humanity don’t seem to be able, or worse, doesn’t care to eliminate the inequalities.

Sometimes, when we get the feeling that the situation seems hopeless, it’s good to remember that the whole idea of ‘equality’ and ‘equal rights for everybody’ are in fact a brand new conceptto humanity, a whole new way of thinking in the perspective of our long history.

For tens of thousands of years people accepted inequality as a fact of life, or even a system they believed strongly in; God gave people there place on earth, and authority, even bad, wasn’t questioned. Hard punishment was the good, justified answer for all 'missteps'.

It’s only some 200 years ago the first countries started to ban slavery, some 100 years ago women started to get the right to vote, 70 years since the Declaration of Human Rights..

On the timescale of our history the idea that all humans are born free and with the same rights is spectacularly different and new, and so maybe it’s no wonder that it’s, however sad, still no common good in our world.

But the achievements we do have didn’t come naturally, a lot of people have lived, fought or even died for what is normal for a lot of people today.

To me, the people that still find the courage to fight for human rights, are the heroes of our time.

The people that dedicate or even risk their live to stand up against religious fundamentalists, suppression by tyrants, racism, antisemitism, sexual violence or corruption, 

that stand up for the lives of refugees, freedom of speech or sexual orientation, the right to education or choice of partners..  for a better world for us all.

But  the struggle is so hard, to change things they are opposed by at least unwillingness, bureaucrats or simple cultural biasses, but all too often by criminal regimes and violent extremists; they are or can be thrown in jail, raped, tortured, or assassinated.

The twelve women I portrayed are off course just twelve of many women and man but they are symbols of the change we need if we want a society that is social and responsible, where everybody can live in peace and freedom.

I don’t know where they find the strength to continue fighting, but they need all our support in the struggle for freedom, dignity, and justice for all.

Heroes of our time: Anna Politkovskaja

Oil on canvas, 120 x 100 cm.

 

Anna Politkovskaja was a Russian journalist.

In her early years as a reporter she worked for a newspaper where she wrote frequently about social problems, she wrote columns for a newspaper that was critical about the post Sovjet regime and published several award-winning books about the life in Russia under Vladimir Putin.

Her work became more dangerous when she started to report about the war in Chechnya, a dirty war as she called it, a conflict between Russian military forces and Chechnyan fighters, creating hell for the civilians caught between them. As Anna reported, the new regime of Ramzam Kadyrov, became a regime of endemic torture, abduction and murder.

Anna herself was being detained by military officials in Chechnya where she was tortured.

After leaving the camp, she stayed critical on Putins regime, had several dead threats, was poisoned, and in 2006, shot to dead in front of her apartment.

Heroes of our time: Nadia Murad

Oil on canvas, 120 x 100cm.

 

Nadia Murad Basee is a Yazidi Iraqi human rights activist.

At the age of 19, IS fighters rounded up the village of Kocho where she lived with her family, killed 600 people while kidnapping the younger women and girls.

That year, Nadia was one of the Yazidi 6700 taken into slavery by IS.

She was held as a slave, sold, beaten, burned with cigarettes and raped.

After three months, she managed to escape and flee to Germany, which became her new home. 

Ever since, she fights IS. She helped set up a network to help other girls escape, and,

together with attorney Amal Cloony, brings IS commanders to trial for genocide, rape and human trafficking. For her work she won prizes like the Sakharov and Nobel Peace Prize.

 

Heroes of our time: Pia Klemp

Oil on canvas, 120 x 100 cm.

 

Pia Klemp is a German animal and human rights activist. She studied biology and joined the marine conservation organization Sea Shepard and worked in various positions such as cook and rescue diver while gaining her captain’s patent. During the European migrant crisis, she commanded ships for NGO’s as Sea- Watch.

As a captain Pia was responsible for the rescue of more than a thousand people from drowning.

She wrote two novels en won several awards. The council of Paris announced that Pia and her fellow captain Carola Rackete will receive the ‘Grand Vermeil Medal’ for bravery.

Pia declined the award, criticizing the government of Paris for their own policy and actions towards migrants and homeless people. One of her ships was seized by Italian authorities and she was subsequently charged with assisting illegal immigration.

If convicted, she faces 20 years of prison.

 

After a picture of: Lisa Hoffman, Sea-Watch

Heroes of our time: Daphne Caruana Galizia

Oil on canvas, 120 x 100 cm.

 

Daphne Caruana Galizia was a Maltese journalist, writer and anti-corruption activist.

In particular, she focussed on investigative journalism, reporting on government corruption and misconduct, nepotism, money laundering and links between the Maltese online gamblingindustry and organized crime.

From 2016 she reported about connections between Panama and members of the government, including the Prime Minister and his wife, the chief of staff and a minister.

Daphne was frequently intimidated for her work and opinions; from phone calls and notes pinned on her front door to her house being set on fire while the family was sleeping inside.

On 16 October 2016, Daphne was assassinated by a car bomb.

The investigation of her death has been slow, but under pressure of her family, the people of Malta, free press organizations and the European parliament that demand justice, people were arrested, among which a prominent Maltese businessman, and it led to the resignation of Malta’s Prime Minister.

In the mean time, a consortium of 45 independent journalists published ‘The Daphne Project’, a collaboration to complete her investigative work.

Heroes of our time: Michelle Bachelet

Oil on canvas, 120 x 100 cm.

 

Michelet Bachelet is a Chilean socialist politician. She became a member of the Socialist Youth as a student. When Augusto Pinochet took the power via the coup d’état of 1973, Michelle and her mother were detained, like her father who served under Salvador Allende. They were tortured , her father would die in prison, while Michele and her mother were able to go into exile abroad. After four years, Michelle returned to Chile and when democracy was re-established in 1990, she became minister of health and later minister of defense.

In 2006 Michelle became Chiles first female elected president. She served two times a as president, in which she worked very hard to make a positive change. A number of new measures and legislations would help to do so, such as; help for the poorest, a reformed education system which also allowed poor students to go to college, a ministry for woman’s rights and gender equality, legalization of abortion, tax reform and measures against tax evasion, and many more.

She won numerous honors and awards and is since 2018 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Heroes of our time: Malala Yusafzai

Oil on canvas, 120 x 100 cm.

 

Malala Yusafzai is a Pakistani activist for women’s education.

She started very young as a blogger for the BBC, detailing her life during the Taliban occupation of Swat, northwest Pakistan, where the Taliban had banned girls from attending school.

When she was 15 years old, while on a bus after taking an exam, Malala and two other girls were shot by a Taliban gunman in a assassination attempt in retaliation for het activism.

Malala was hit in the head with a bullet and remained unconscious and in critical condition, but her condition improved enough for her to be transferred to a hospital in the UK, where she lives with her family ever since.

Following her recovery she became a prominent activist for the right to education.

She won numerous prizes including the Nobel Peace prize.

 

After a photo by Antonio Olmos

 

 

Heroes of our time: Jaha Dukureh

Oil on canvas, 120 x 100 cm.

 

Jaha Dukureh is a Gambian women’s rights activist and anti Female Genital Mutilation campaigner. FGM, the ritual cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitals is a wide spread practice. 

UNICEF estimated in 2016 that 200 million woman living today have undergone these procedures.

Jaha herself was subjected to the type III FGM, where the inner and outer labia and clitoris are cut away and the vulva is sewed to close, when she was about a week old.

When she was 15, she moved to New York City for an arranged marriage that had been planned years earlier.

She managed to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration Management in 2013. That year, she founded Safe Hands for Girls, an anti FGM non profit organization.

She is in Times 100 most influential people and Nobel Prize nominee.

Her activism led to the banning of FGM in Gambia.

 

After a photo of: Ryan Brown, UN Women

Heroes of our time: Louise Arbour

Oil on canvas, 120 x 100cm.

 

Louise Arbour is a Canadian lawyer, prosecutor and jurist who dedicates her life to be a human rights defender, using the law as her weapon. She has done so and does so in numerous positions.

She has served for the supreme court of Canada and was vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. She was involved in a number of controversial issues like campaigning for prisoners right to vote.

She was chief prosecutor in the Rwanda and former Yugoslavia International trials where she indicted former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosovic and others for crimes against humanity.

Louise was high commissioner of the UN human rights, and president of the International Crisis Group.

At this time she is UN special representative for international migration. She has won countless awards and honors and is known for her integrity and tireless efforts for a better world. 

Heroes of our time: Julienne Lusenge

Oil on canvas, 120 x 100 cm.

 

Julienne Lusenge is a Conglese human rights activist advocating for the survivors of wartime violence. Julienne has worked as a journalist and humanitarian radio broadcaster in eastern Congo when civil war broke out. 

She travelled throughout the eastern Congo interviewing women about their lives and sharing their stories in her radio shows. The stories included descriptions of horrific sexual violence that they had been victim of as the war escalated.

Julienne began to document the sexual abuse and publicly condemning the acts of violence against woman. Outraged by the amount of sexual violence against women in her country, 

Julienne and 22 fellow activists started an organization that would bring the issue of gender-based violence to the attention of international organizations. Julienne is the co-founder of two separate NGOs: Women’s Solidarity for Peace and Integral Development, and Fund for Congolese Women, which both work on human rights and peace-building in conflict zones.

She has been internationally recognized for her work and won many awards.

Heroes of our time: Loujain Al-Hatloul

Oil on canvas, 120 x 100 cm. 

 

Loujain Al-Hatloul ia a Saoudi woman’s right activist.

She is known for defying the ban on woman driving and opposing the male guardianship system in Saoudi Arabia.

She strived for a shelter for victims of sexual violence and is a very influential Arabic figure on social media and ranked third in the list op ‘top 100 most powerful Arab women’

Loujain has been detained and released several times related to her work for women’s rights but she is now in jail since May 2018, together with some fellow activists, suspected of ‘undermining state security’ but without being convicted.

Meanwhile, according to Amnesty International she is tortured with techniques including beating on the feet, waterboarding and electrical shocks.

Heroes of our time: Francia Marquez

Oil on canvas, 120 x 100 cm.

 

Francia Marquez is an Afro Colombian human rights en environmental activist. Francia’s people,

descending from Africans forced into slavery, maintained  an independent existence on their territory in La Toma,  the south-west of Colombia. This was threatened when the land they live off and the Suarez river they fish in was poisoned with toxic waste of the illegal mining activities and intense deforestation. The impact on the community was devastating.

Francia started to fight against the environmental destruction as a teenager, put herself through college, studying law to learn how to protect her people in the face of corporal interests.

She led a group of 22 woman, and they successfully pressured the government to committing to stop illegal gold mining in their territory.

Francia won the Goldman Environmental Prize and is an inspiration for the indigenous to defend their land.

She has survived an assassination attempt. Since 2016, hundreds of social activists have been  killed in Colombia.

 

Photo credits: Goldman Environmental Prize

Heroes of our time: Denise Ho

Oil on canvas, 120 x 100 cm.

 

Denise Ho is a Hong Kong based singer and activist. Her career started early with a song contest she won, and within a few years she became a famous Asian pop star and actress.

At the age of 35, Denise publicly announced herself as gay and since then, she has been involved in civil rights groups striving for equal rights for the LGBT community.

In 2014 the Umbrella Movement emerged in Hong Kong and as a celebrity, Denise became soon one the leaders of the pro democracy movement, that oppose Hong Kong’s anti-extradition law amendment bill, which would enable China to intimidate and arrest critics of the Chinese government in Hong Kong.

Denise attended the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva were she stated that the police engage in excessive violence and if the Hong Kong government continues to ignore citizen demands the opposition movement will continue.

Heroes of our time: Nasrin Sotoudeh

Oil on canvas, 120 x 100 cm.

 

Nasrin Sotoudeh is an Iranian lawyer who was already very involved in the field of women’s rights in her early career, but after earning her lawyer credentials became one of the most active members of the Iranian law society.

Her work includes defending abused children and mothers, minors with a dead sentence and her backing of women who opposed the mandatory hijab laws.

After she represented Iranian opposition politicians following the disputed 2009 presidential elections she was arrested on charges of spreading propaganda and conspiracy to harm state security and was finally sentenced to in total 38 years of prison and 148 whiplashes.